Close basketball games are essentially a coin flip. There are countless opportunities for luck to impact the outcome of a basketball game on each possession. A dribble off a foot here, dropped pass there, and the always present bad calls can impact the outcome of a game. Over sixty something possessions in a game, so much can happen beyond any player or team’s control that when a game is decided by a point or two, luck plays an outsized role in who wins and loses, and how the winners and losers are perceived. Luck has not been on the side of the Gophers, and after losing 5 straight games, bravely crawling to the corner and pulling themselves up off the mat, a barrage of three-pointers in the last week has essentially ended a season that was more or less over before Minnesota won a Big Ten game. It is what it is, and I hope you’ll excuse us for letting this season lie, and focusing on the future.
While luck and its impact on the outcome of games gets all the focus, the luck of the schedule has an even greater impact on a team’s success. For once, the Gophers got lucky. Today the Big Ten announced the opponent’s each conference team will face next season, and the Gophers won the conference scheduling lottery. They play each of the current top five teams in the conference once, and four of those games are at home. There are no games in Maryland where the Gophers have never won, or at Michigan State where they haven’t won since 1997, or Purdue where they haven’t won since 2005, or Wisconsin where they haven’t won since 2009.
Past performance does not predict future results, but past is also prologue. Historically, the Gophers have a difficult time winning on the road in general, and an even more difficult time winning in the Big Ten’s most hostile venues. The Gophers will be young next season, with at least four players facing Big Ten competition for the first time. This bit of luck has likely avoided four guaranteed losses.
The home schedule might be even better news. By definition, every Big Ten home game is winnable, and there will be plenty of opportunities for quality wins, and a lot of good basketball teams to watch, even if they don’t win.
Last season the Nebraska Cornhuskers came out of nowhere to finish fourth in the Big Ten. They had a fair amount of luck on the court, as the 76th most lucky team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. They were extremely lucky when it came to scheduling, playing each of the bottom five teams in the conference twice, and playing Michigan State Ohio State, and Wisconsin once, the latter two only at home. To their credit, they managed to win 11 conference games, something the Gophers haven’t done since the now vacated Clem Haskins era, but it would be silly to ignore how the schedule helped make that happen. The Gophers will have an advantageous schedule next year, and an opportunity to be next season’s surprise Big Ten team.