The deadly 12-5 matchup. The best 12 in the entire tournament taking on the worst five seed. Middle Tennessee pulled one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history last year with their victory over Michigan State. Middle Tennessee is now a one-point favorite over the Gophers.
Minnesota Golden Gophers fans have been hearing all of that since the NCAA bracket was released on Sunday afternoon. Instantly, all the experts had the Blue Raiders pulling the upset on the Gophers. There’s some decent reason for that stance, especially with the loss of Akeem Springs.
Other than the loss of Springs though, what’s not to like about the Gophers. Minnesota ended the season on a tear, were one hot Michigan team away from the Big Ten Tournament championship game and one five-game slide in the middle of the season away from contending for the conference title. There’s an argument to be had that the Gophers are the best team in the Big Ten and at the very least an argument for Minnesota being the most dangerous in Big Ten team in the tournament.
The Gophers sport the best defender in the Big Ten, maybe the country, in Reggie Lynch, a dynamic point guard that can score at easy in Nate Mason, and freshman Amir Coffeey who is on the verge of breaking out into an all-out superstar soon.
Minnesota has a depth problem. The loss of Springs turned the Gophers into a six-player team against the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals, but that game was less than 24 hours after the victory against the Michigan State Spartans. Give Head Coach Richard Pitino five days to prepare his team and it’s hard to not believe his bench will be better structured in the NCAA Tournament. Plus, the NCAA Tournament never makes a team play back-to-back days which greatly helps a team with a short bench.
That all being said, it doesn’t matter if the marron and gold win Thursday afternoon. A win and a potential trip to the Sweet 16 would be fantastic, but Gopher fans need to remember that this season is already a success.
This season the Gophers tripled their victories with 24 this season compared to the 2015-16 campaign’s eight victories. It’s hard not to improve from eight wins, but the Gophers went from being a laughing stock last season to being consistently around the AP Top 25. Winning percentage wise this is the best Gophers team since the vacated Final Four 1996-97 season.
The incredibly scary part for the Big Ten and all of the NCAA is the fact that the Gophers are only going to get better. All the Gophers will lose from this season to next is Akeem Springs. Springs is a major part of the team, as was very evident against Michigan, but to only lose one player on this good of a team is remarkable.
Minnesota is getting a bad rap through all of this. All the Middle Tennessee love is fueled by Vegas wanting common betters to put money on the Blue Raiders while the professionals are putting their money on the Golden Gophers. Simply, I’ll take a really good Big Ten team over a mid-major any day and that should be the smarter bet for any Big Ten team.
However the games goes just remember that at the beginning of the season we didn’t think the Gophers were going to be close to being here. Now the Gophers have a chance to be one of the major causes of madness this March.