Minnesota’s in the tournament for the first time since 2013 and they’re in as a five seed. An opening round date in Milwaukee with popular Cinderella Middle Tennessee State looms.
Gopher basketball tournament history is defined in detail on the University of Minnesota athletics site. So, we’ll go through the eras and pick out a few interesting nuggets. Conspicuously, there’s a large NCAA Tournament gap in the 1990s; we’ll get into those painful details too.
With that, let’s take a more detailed look at that history.
Very Old History (1972 – 1989)
In 1972, the Gophers first appeared in the NCAA Tournament, losing an opening round game to Florida State 70-56 and then played Marquette in the Mideast Region Consolation Round, beating the then-Warriors 77-72. The Marquette game is notable for impressive rebounding. The Gophers set a program record (for the NCAA Tournament) by grabbing 47 rebounds.
Jim Brewer still holds the Gopher single-game mark in a tournament game for rebounds with 22. In fact, Brewer averaged 18 rebounds over the two games.
Ten years later, Minnesota was back in the NCAA Tournament. Receiving a bye in the first round, the Gophers beat Tennessee Chattanooga 62-61 and then lost to Louisville, 67-61, in the second round of the Mideast Region.
Finally, in 1989, Minnesota actually picked up two tournament wins over Kansas State and Siena, before falling to Duke in the Mideast Region Semi-finals. At the time, the Blue Devils were on the cusp of winning two straight National Titles.
Old History (1990 – 1999)
Now, we come to the history that, although scrubbed from Minnesota’s historical page, cannot be scrubbed from our memories.
In 1990, Minnesota jumped into the Southeast Region and won three straight games against UTEP, Northern Iowa and Syracuse. In the Elite Eight, the Gophers lost by two to Georgia Tech. Remember, that Yellow Jackets team had Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, all of which averaged more than 20 points a game.
The Minnesota program appeared on the upswing after solid NCAA Tournament appearances in 1989 and 1990. We didn’t know it at the time, but scandal struck in 1999, after a report alleged that an academic advisor had completed a bunch of coursework for basketball players, with Clem Haskins’ knowledge.
The resulting investigation by the NCAA proved the allegations true and Haskins lied to investigators to boot. The punishment forced Minnesota to vacate wins in the 1994, 1995 and 1997 NCAA Tournaments.
In 1994, Minnesota earned a six seed and fell to Louisville in the second round of the West Region. St. Louis beat the Gophers in the first round in 1995, in an eight-nine matchup.
Vacating the 1997 NCAA Tournament wins was particularly painful. Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobson were prominent members of that team. The Gophers reached the Final Four in Indianapolis after getting a number one seed. Minnesota lost to Kentucky 78-69 in the national semi-final.
But, according to the NCAA, those games never happened. The decade did finish with a tournament appearance, but Minnesota lost to Gonzaga in the first round.
Recent History (2000 – 2016)
The scandal broke in 1999 and after the investigation, the University of Minnesota self-imposed a post-season ban in 1999-2000. The NCAA only slapped four years of probation and scholarship losses above what was self-imposed.
In the intervening years, Minnesota has made the tournament four times, most recently in 2013. In three of the four appearances, the Gophers lost in the first round; however, in 2013 the program upset UCLA 83-63. Andre Hollins shot 61 percent from three over the two tournament games.
With a checkered past, the Gophers add to its tournament history this year. As a five-seed, it’ll be the highest the Gophers have earned in more than 20 years.