This morning Kevin Dorsey, a 6’0″ point guard out of Maryland, confirmed that he had verbally committed to join the Golden Gophers for the 2015-2016 basketball season. That season is nearly a year and a half away, giving the team two point guards of the present, and two of the future.
Despite a more aesthetically pleasing offense in Richard Pitino’s first season, the Minnesota Gophers’ offense was merely average during the 2013-2014 season, and slightly worse than Tubby Smith’s final season. Last season, the best shooters didn’t shoot enough.
Early in Malik Smith’s oh so short Golden Gopher career, a curious debate briefly waged on Twitter. The question at the center of the debate was its own answer. “Why is Malik Smith here besides shooting?” The answer was that Malik Smith was on the team almost entirely because of his shooting, and really, that should have been good enough.
Before Dan McHale joined Richard Pitino’s coaching staff, he was an assistant at Seton Hall. The Pirates were in a similar position to the Golden Gophers. They were a high- major program, but usually not the first choice for high-major recruits. Necessity being the mother of invention, the Pirates sought recruits in nontraditional places, especially the Canarias Basketball Academy (CBA). The Gophers are following that same strategy.
I had planned to write about the reasons why the Golden Gophers N.I.T. championship mattered. I do think it matters and I’ll still write about why, but context matters too. The game of college basketball isn’t nearly as important as the lives of the people who are touched by the game we love. The twitterati, along with fans of teams that were able to participate in the NCAA tournament, snarkily declared the N.I.T. championship meaningless. In the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. The world of college basketball, today alone, provided two examples of how a kids game played by kids and young adults doesn’t mean a whole lot in the tapestry of life. Lacey Holsworth died way too young of a disease too horrible. Meanwhile, UMass guard Derrick Gordon is finally himself, and finally happy. Death, and (a fuller, happier) life mean a lot more than any basketball game, any basketball season.
In the proper context of a kids’ game, here is why the N.I.T. mattered.
Richard Pitino will coach in his first non-conference tournament championship game of his career on Thursday night. The coach on the other bench is no stranger to championship basketball. Richard Pitino was five years old when Brown won the national title in 1988, 22 when Brown won his first NBA title with the Pistons. At age 31, Pitino hopes to give the 73 year old Brown his first N.I.T. championship loss.
That was something, huh? Zips, if and when he wakes up from last night’s mind-numbing, never-ending Gophers win(?) will be back with his typically excellent game review, and I’ll be back later tonight with a preview of the NIT championship (!?) game. I have a few minutes to kill right now, just enough time to discuss some of the coaching situations that arose in the last few minutes last night.
For the second time in three seasons, the Gophers will play in the N.I.T. semi-finals in New York City. Their opponent, the Florida State Seminoles, failed to make the NCAA tournament in large part because of their loss back in December to the Golden Gophers in the Big Ten – ACC Challenge. The Gophers will be out for revenge too, in a bit more convoluted way. Their once “good win” over the Seminoles grew more mediocre as the season went on, and as the Seminoles slowly fell apart, so did Minnesota’s chance to return to the NCAA tournament.
The home careers of Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi, and Malik Smith will come to an end Tuesday night against Southern Mississippi. Unlike senior day, when the finality was hopeful, this will really be the end, win or loss. If the Gophers win, they’ll head to the N.I.T. Final Four for the second time in three seasons, and will earn the trip to New York City on their home floor for the first time since 1998.
No one wants to play in the N.I.T. but some teams don’t want to play more than others. The first round of this tournament, more than deciding which teams are good at basketball, decides which teams care about playing more basketball. It took the Golden Gophers about 30 minutes to decide they didn’t want their season to end against High Point. Minnesota, despite some sleep-walking, was never in any real danger of an embarrassing season ending loss. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, trailed Utah for 36 minutes, sometimes by double digits. Then they started caring and making three-pointers, and eventually won by 12. Now that we have found two teams that care, we too can focus on basketball.