Minnesota was touted as one of the top programs in the Big Ten heading into this 2017-’18 season. However, as they progressed through the year, it was evident that this team was unfit for the Big Ten. On top of that, the Gophers could not have had worse luck in terms of injury and off the court issues. Those two factors added together made for one of the more ungraceful descents in recent Big Ten lore. Having lost their first round game of the Big Ten tournament to Rutgers, Minnesota is done with their 2017-’18 campaign. Now would be a good time to unpack and try to answer the question of “What the hell happened to Minnesota?”
With essentially the same roster as the year before, Minnesota was eyeing a possible run to the Big Ten title. Their 2016-’17 campaign saw them finish 24-10 and making the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for that team, they lost their opening round game to Middle Tennessee. However, with a more experienced team that already had a taste of what it was like to play in March, everyone assumed the Gophers would be a lock for the big dance. Thanks to that, Minnesota was ranked 15th in the county to start the year.
As we will see, all of us were horribly misguided in our preconceived notions.
Compared to other Big Ten teams, Minnesota had one of the easiest non-conference schedules. They began the season 7-0 and had some quality wins over Providence and Alabama. If you recall, the Gophers beat the Crimson Tide after all but three Alabama players were ejected. Therefore, they were forced to finish the game short-handed. Their first real test was a home game against then 10th ranked Miami. Dupree McBrayer missed that game and the Gophers ended up losing by five points.
After taking a few games off for Big Ten play, the cracks began to show in the Minnesota armor. They barely defeated Drake on December 11th, the Bulldogs finished this season at 15-13. The team also suffered a demoralizing loss to Arkansas before ending their non-conference schedule. Ultimately, the Gophers finished 11-2 outside of the Big Ten.
In the odd two game stretch in December, the Gophers split with Rutgers and Nebraska. Heading into the full conference slate at 1-1, the Gophers beat Illinois in their first game after finalizing non-conference play. It was also the last game Minnesota would play with center Reggie Lynch, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Due to sexual misconduct allegations, Lynch was expelled from the campus. He has since dropped his appeal which bars him from the University of Minnesota until 2020.
The Gophers had to forge on, and they really fell flat without Lynch. They dropped their next three games before snapping their skid against Penn State on January 15th. Minnesota did not win again until February 21st, losing 10 straight games in that span. Within that time frame was where Amir Coffey experienced a rare shoulder injury which caused him to miss several games. Coffey came back to play against Ohio State and Northwestern on January 20th and 23rd. After that, Coffey was shut down for the rest of the season due to the ailment.
Dupree McBrayer also had a lingering leg injury which stunted his play to a great degree. By the end of the regular season, the Gophers had only won a total of four Big Ten games. As mentioned earlier, they then lost to 14th seeded Rutgers in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.
Given the performance of the Gophers throughout the season, their postseason hopes have surely been dashed. It is certainly a sour way to end Nate Mason’s career, who is one of the best Gophers of all-time in my opinion. Also, a great season by Jordan Murphy was wasted due to their lack of success in the win-loss column.
So, the answer to the question of “What the hell happened?” is relatively simple. The Minnesota Golden Gophers had a thin roster to begin with and due to some awful luck that weakness became even more glaring. Teams were able to easily game plan for them and what transpired on the court every night was very hard to watch at times. Ultimately, it was another lost year in Dinkytown.