It has not been pretty. At times, it has been down right hard to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers play basketball this season. Most notably in the Big Ten, Richard Pitino and his crew have faced their fair share of hardships. While some teams can overcome and conquer, Minnesota has fallen flat. Much of this is due to the lack of overall talent on the roster compared to the players they lost to either injury or suspension. Therefore, a team that was billed as one of the more dangerous in the conference is completely feeble.
There have been bright spots though. Jordan Murphy put up Big Ten Player of the Year type numbers, averaging a double-double and shooting over 50 percent from the field. Nate Mason has also been quietly fantastic despite the team’s struggles. The senior is averaging nearly 17 points per game this season and has shot his highest percentage from three-point range. Surely, this is a sour way to end your playing career, but Mason refuses to give in.
It will be a long shot for Minnesota to make any postseason tournament, but let us take a look at their Big Ten Tournament route.
With their 4-14 Big Ten record this season, Minnesota was able to score the 11 seed in this year’s conference tournament. Though this is not ideal, they are the highest rated team playing in the first round of games, take that for what it’s worth. Anyway, they will play the bottom barrel Big Ten team, Rutgers. The two teams played each other early in the year during that odd stretch of December Big Ten games. Both teams are vastly different now, though.
Obviously, the Gophers had a healthy Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer. They also had Reggie Lynch, who has since been expelled from the campus. So this game is entirely different from the first contest between the teams. However, Minnesota does still have a slight edge, but the gap is far less than it was in December.
Corey Sanders and Geo Baker are good players for the Scarlet Knights, but they do not stack up with Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy. Rutgers does not come into the Big Ten tournament overly hot either, losing 10 of their last 11 games. Their most recent loss was a bad one to Illinois at home. Believe it or not, I think the Gophers win this one considering how favorable a match-up this is for them.
If They Advance
Indiana awaits Minnesota if they are able to surpass Rutgers in the first round. The sixth seeded Hoosiers have beaten the Gophers twice during the regular season. Neither win was against a fully equipped Minnesota roster. However, in their most recent game, Indiana walloped the Gophers by 24 points. Minnesota is at a clear disadvantage, but in their defense, it is hard to beat a team three times in a season.
If (and this is a very big if) Minnesota beats Indiana, they will play Purdue in the third round. The Boilermakers have absolutely slammed the Gophers in both games, winning by a combined 58 points. Purdue comes into the tournament hot, so if Minnesota can beat them, it would be a borderline miracle.
Beyond that, it would take a fair amount of predicting to assume who Minnesota would play. Popular opinion would say that the Gophers would meet Ohio State in the semi-finals and Michigan State in the finals. However, if we are being honest, a victory for the Gophers would be to make it past Indiana.
There is a lot of predicting that needs to be done if we want to sort out who Minnesota might play if they continue to win in the Big Ten tournament. In the grand scheme of the tournament, I would assume that the Gophers lose to Indiana after beating Rutgers. Even if they were to beat the Hoosiers, they would surely lose to Purdue. Given how depleted and short-handed Minnesota is, playing three games in three days will be daunting physically. Couple that with how thin their talent level is, and you have a formula to lose early in the Big Ten tournament.
That is not to say a miracle may not take place. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy will do everything in their power to carry the team, but that may not be enough. Ultimately, I do not think we see Minnesota make it out of the second round.