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.
In a game that felt like it would never end, and with a clown car of announcers and color commentators talking about anything other than the game in front of them, the Gophers overcame a back-breaking end of regulation to rebound and take care of Florida State in OT in the NIT semifinals, 67-64. With the game well in hand heading into the final 10 seconds of regulation, Malik Smith, perhaps the team’s best free throw shooter, clanked two attempts, resulting in utter panic and…
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.
It’s been a weird season so far for the Gophers. Uncertain expectations before the season, followed by initial excitement, followed by actual excitement, followed by February frustration, followed by hope, followed by disappointment, and finally followed by rejuvenation and inspiration. Inspiration? Let me back up a second. Many pundits before the season picked the Gophers to finish dead last in the Big Ten. Like, behind Northwestern and Penn State. For a team that’s enjoyed success (at least by our standards) for the past few years,…
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.
To say the first seven minutes of Minnesota’s 2nd round NIT tilt against the St. Mary’s Gaels was ugly would be a huge understatement. “Atrocious” is probably about halfway there, and so is “hideous.” Is there even a word for racking up six turnovers and spotting your opponent a 14-0 lead before even coming close to scoring? Indeed, the Gophers gave the Gaels a two-touchdown lead to begin the game, looking like they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) score. Committing interesting turnovers, putting up shots…
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.