To say that the 2012-2013 University of Minnesota men’s basketball season has been a roller-coaster is an understatement. The Gophers finished the regular season with an overall record of 20 wins and 12 losses, and 8-10 record and an 8th place finish in the Big Ten.
Big wins against Memphis, Michigan St., Wisconsin and then #1 Indiana that showed how well the Gophers are capable of playing were taken down more than a few notches by bad losses against Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois twice, most recently in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, leaving fans and reporters who cover the team confused as to who the real Gophers are and also wondering if head coach Tubby Smith would be let go.
After an effort against Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament that can generously be called flat, the Gophers figured to once again have punched a ticket to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT); the tournament where the teams that weren’t quite good enough to be invited to the NCAA tournament play post-season basketball.
The Gophers have made quite a habit of going to the NIT over the years and the first few times it was fun for fans but it is safe to say whatever charm the NIT may be blessed with has worn off on Gopher-backers. The good news for Gopher fans is that the NIT will have to wait at least another year for the return of the Gophers.
On Sunday the NCAA tournament selection committee, based largely on strength of schedule, rewarded the Gophers for their topsy-turvy season with a #11 seed in the South Region of the ‘Big Dance’ and a Friday night match-up in Austin, Texas against the #6 seeded UCLA Bruins. Go figure.
Forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, guards Austin and Andre Hollins and occasionally guard Joe Coleman have carried the Gophers during their best games. Mbakwe, Williams and Andre Hollins in particular make the Gophers go. Conversely, the team doesn’t have much of a bench it can turn to when the starters either aren’t having a good night or wind up in foul trouble.
The Gophers have the ability to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. That said if the Gophers are going to make any sort of a run it is going to have to be the starters that make it happen. The pattern the Gophers have followed much of the season is that after a couple of bad games they put forward a terrific effort in a big game or against a quality opponent. After three straight clunkers against also-rans Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois the Gophers may be due for a big effort Friday against UCLA.
The game on Friday evening is scheduled to tip-off at 8:57 CDT and will be televised on TruTV.