Looking ahead: What Big Ten wins do Gophers need for Tournament berth?
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-3, 0-1 Big Ten) lost to the injury-laden Michigan Wolverines (9-4, 1-0 Big Ten) on Thursday night to start the Richard Pitino era in the Big Ten.
It's only one game, but the deflation felt in Williams Arena was all too familiar for fans who had watched six years of Tubby Smith squads do no better than 9-9 in the conference.
The Wolverines were already down sophomore phenom Mitch McGary, who elected to schedule in-season back surgery and is out indefinitely. But even though Wolverines forward Glenn Robinson III left due to a right leg injury, the double-double performance from seven-foot Gophers center Elliott Eliason wasn't enough to push past a relatively mediocre Wolverines squad that made the NCAA Championship game a year ago.
The fact is the Wolverines finished Thursday's 63-60 win over the Gophers with just one of the five starters they put on the floor in a runner-up effort to Pitino's father, Rick, against the Louisville Cardinals in the April 8th championship game.
The Gophers have switched schemes and flipped the roster, but still rely on the experience from backcourt duo Austin and Andre Hollins to get it done. The pair combined to shoot 4-for-19 on the night, which is far below thier 40 percent shooting average on the season.
The numbers suggest Thursday night was the anomaly.
The Gophers hooked Big Dance berths in three of Smith's six seasons as a head coach. The Gophers' Big Ten records in those seasons: 9-9 (2009), 9-9 (2010) and 8-10 (2013). However, each season included signature wins, including the Feb. 26 upset over No. 1 Indiana at Williams Arena that helped jettison one of the more disappointing Gophers teams to an 11-seed last March.
Four Big Ten teams are currently ranked in No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 Michigan State and No. 22 Iowa. First-year coach Richard Pitino will get his second crack at his first confernece win on Sunday when the Gophers host the Purdue Boilermakers.
Gophers 2013-14 Big Ten schedule
Jan 2 vs MICH L 63-60
Jan 5 vs PUR 2:30 PM ET
Jan 8 @ PSU 7:00 PM ET
Jan 11 @ #5 MSU 2:15 PM ET
Jan 16 vs #3 OSU 9:00 PM ET
Jan 19 @ #22 IOWA 1:00 PM ET
Jan 22 vs #4 WIS 9:00 PM ET
Jan 26 @ NEB 6:00 PM ET
Feb 1 vs NW 2:00 PM ET
Feb 5 @ PUR 8:30 PM ET
Feb 8 vs IND 8:15 PM ET
Feb 13 @ #4 WIS 9:00 PM ET
Feb 16 @ NW 6:00 PM ET
Feb 19 vs ILL 9:00 PM ET
Feb 22 @ #3 OSU TBD
Feb 25 vs #22 IOWA 7:00 PM ET
Mar 1 @ MICH 6:00 PM ET
Mar 8 vs PSU 8:30 PM ET
So, Gophers fans, which games do you foresee as the 'swing' games that the NCAA Tournament selection committee will look at when determining who's in and who's out in March Madness?