The Gophers were upset yesterday against a very talented Middle Tennessee State team, and I’m still trying to get over it.
But the future of the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks bright.
At the beginning of the season, I believed the Gophers had enough new talent with the additions of Amir Coffey, Eric Curry, Michael Hurt, Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs and with the growth of returning players like Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy to be one of the “bubble” teams considered for an NCAA Tournament. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they barely missed the NCAA Tournament but had a successful run in the NIT Tournament, such as in coach Richard Pitino’s first year when the Gophers won the NIT. But a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament would have been a surprise for me.
I never envisioned the Gophers finishing fourth in the Big Ten with a chance to be the second best team if only they had defeated Wisconsin in the last game of the season. I could not imagine the scenario of watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on CBS late Sunday afternoon, not worrying whether they would make the tournament. I was only concerned what their seed would be, who they would play and when and what teams they could play down the line if they keep winning and advancing.
It really hurt losing Springs for this tournament to an Achilles injury because he added another scoring threat and played solid defense on opposing guards. He is also a great leader, but although he cannot lead from the floor, he can still lead from the bench.
This has been such a fun year to watch this team mature, and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds. Pitino has done a great job recruiting talented players that fit his system. The Minnesota Class of 2018 has a lot of highly ranked players and hopefully most will choose to stay home. It doesn’t matter a great deal where players come from if you’re winning. After all, our first-team Big Team guard – Mason – is from Georgia.
But it certainly makes recruiting easier if you have great relationships with local coaches and programs and families can watch their loved ones play at Williams Arena.
The Athletes Village currently under construction will provide top-notch training facilities and a place for athletes to socialize, so facilities will not be a problem. And the current administration has shown a willingness to pay top dollar for a coach they feel is worth it. Hopefully an increased financial commitment to Pitino and completion of the Athletes Village will entice him to stay and build a national power at Minnesota. The pieces are in place to build an annual Big Ten title contender here that could even go to Final Fours and even win a national championship. Wisconsin almost won a national championship two years ago. Minnesota can get there with the right coach and commitment to excellence.
Whether the Gophers win or lose in this tournament, the future is bright. Ski-U-Mah and Row the Boat!