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.
What a day huh? Four overtimes, a slew of upsets, and as I am writing this, there are still four more games to go. Because of all the overtimes, staggered start-times couldn’t keep games from ending at the same time, and it was beautiful chaos. Let’s hope for some more of that on Friday.
Once upon a time, before we had to remember how to find TruTv or learn of the existence of Lizard Lick Towing, every NCAA tournament game was on CBS. The scheduling types did their best to show games that would interest the audience, usually using geography as their guiding criteria. This meant that Big Ten games were usually on WCCO in Minneapolis, but it also meant that it was impossible to watch the lastest Cinderella hoping for an upset while a highly seeded Big Ten team was curb-stomping some hyphenated state school that no one had every heard of. It could be maddening, but it could also be magical. Because when the powers that be decided a game was out of hand, there was “whip around” coverage, a frantic effort to show as much of the last few seconds of as many games as possible. There was no way to predict what game would be shown, but there was sure to be drama and excitement. It was many shining moments back to back to back. In the Lizard Lick Towing era, it is all too easy to flip on your own to the right game at the right time, but all too difficult to know what game to watch before the waning moments of the latest upset.
It wasn’t the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but on snowy night at Williams Arena in mid-March, postseason basketball was on full display. In front of a sparse home crowd that was either missing because of weather, spring break or general lack of interest, the Gophers leveraged a career night from Maverick Ahanmisi and big games from Mo Walker and Joey King to stave off the High Point Panthers 88-81 and move into the second round of the NIT. The NIT isn’t an altogether…
After the Gophers beat Penn State in the first round of Big Ten Tournament, without a win against Wisconsin, they were essentially a coin flip away from making the NCAA tournament. They lost the coin flip to NC State, and instead are a number one seed in the NIT. Minnesota will play Tubby Smith’s alma mater High Point on Tuesday at 7:15 pm at The Barn. If they win that game, they play Utah or St Mary’s, the latter of which will feature former Gopher Joe Coleman next season. If you like intrigue and story lines in a relatively meaningless tournament, there you go.
In hindsight, Minnesota’s Big Ten Tournament performance is about what we’d expect. They beat a pretty terrible Penn State team and lost to a pretty good Wisconsin team (though, I guess it was more of a beatdown, but I digress). What does that mean? Basically the status quo. The Gophers didn’t really improve their tournament resume, but they did nothing to discount it either. Instead, the team must now play the waiting game, which means hoping that other teams on the bubble somehow discredit themselves…
It feels like the Golden Gophers have been playing must-win games for weeks. Their bubble predicament hasn’t quite been that severe, since they still have a chance to make the tournament despite several losses in the last few weeks, but it has been close. Wins over Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State were obviously must-wins, and would have been season killers if they had been losses. Each of those wins gave the Gophers a bit of breathing room so that there would still be a shot at redemption later on. Later on begins Thursday in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament.
The narrative all season, at least during conference play, was that the Gophers were a Jekyll and Hyde. They could play with the best in the conference but also had a frightening tendency to play down to teams they were clearly superior than. Naturally, with the Penn State Nittany Lions coming to town for the season finale with postseason implications hanging in the balance, there was a nervous air surrounding the game, as it was unclear which Minnesota team would actually show up. Bucking that…
The home careers of Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi, Oto Osenieks, and Malik Smith will (hopefully) come to an end on Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Gophers celebrate senior day, and hopefully inch one step closer to a return to the NCAA tournament. The basketball game is self-evidently big, and if the Gophers do want to return to the tournament, they need to win. After thirty games, you don’t need me to tell you that the Gophers’ defense needs to improve, including their defensive rebounding, or that Deandre Mathieu needs to play well for the Gophers to win, so I won’t tell you any of that. Instead, it seems like and appropriate type to recognize and appreciate the the class of 2014, who for between one and four seasons, represented the University of Minnesota about as well as anyone can.
The University of Minnesota announced today that Oto Osenieks will be honored as part of senior day festivities on Sunday afternoon, and that his playing career with the Golden Gophers. The red-shirt junior forward hasn’t played in the last two games due to a knee injury that sounds degenerative in nature. There is a silver lining though. According to the announcement from the university, Osenieks will remain on scholarship next season, and will be something of a coaching intern.