It is Bracket Monday! Time to spend half of your workday filling out bracket after bracket until you finally find the combination of winning teams and upsets unforeseen by your peers, the perfect bracket. This might be the best non-holiday, Monday on the calendar. Be sure to print out your brackets here and even before they were sponsoring SB Nation I have always suggested Yahoo!'s Tourney Pick'em.
Clearly the Gophers have missed the Tournament for the second consecutive year, but there are a number of interesting teams in the tournament who have connections to Minnesota, the state and the University. Let's take a quick look at them. I am going to ignore all of the Big Ten teams. Most of us have a pretty good understanding of who is on their roster and how they play, their connection to Minnesota is largely by conference affiliation. Not interesting enough for this post.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the All-Left Us team, easily Sweet 16 caliber if you ask me.
8 - Iowa State
I know that many of you have watched the Cyclones and Royce White this year. We can't help but wonder where the Gophers would be right now with a forward who averages in the teens for points and nine plus rebounds per game. And then we think how great it would be if Royce White were a Gopher as well. The Mayor (Fred Hoiberg) has put together a talented roster of misfits from other programs. White, Scott Christopherson, Chris Allen and Chris Babb combine for over 45 points per game and all of them began their collegiate careers somewhere other than Ames, Iowa. They get UCONN in the 8/9 game, winner gets Kentucky.
5 - Wichita State
Former Chaska standout Jake White is a freshman for the Shockers. He plays sparingly, but he plays. His team gets the 2011 Final Four party crashing VCU Rams.
14 - South Dakota State
This is one of a few Gopher opponents who made the NCAA Tournament field. The Jackrabbits finished 3rd in the Summit League but ran through the conference tournament for an automatic bid. Nate Wolters is a St. Cloud native who was drawing comparisons to Steve Nash on ESPN radio Sunday afternoon. They get the 3-seed Baylor Bears who have beaten 27 teams this year only losing to quality opponents. I have a sneaky suspicion that SDSU may sneak up on the Bears and make this one much closer than many anticipate.
7 - Notre Dame
Mike Broghammer is from Orono. He is has played in 24 games this year averaging just 1.7 ppg. Unless this is a blowout our there is some foul trouble, do not expect to see him on the floor against Xavier.
9 - Saint Louis
Patrick Reusse did a nice profile on Jordair Jett last week. He is a St. Paul kid who had a great high school career but grades forced him to take the prep school route that eventually led him to Saint Louis. Jett averages 6.4 ppg and was on the A10 all-defensive team. The Billiken's head coach is Rick Majerus who has always had more ties to Minnesota than most any other coach who has never actually coached or lived here.
12 - Long Beach State
You knew I'd get to this one eventually...the coach we fired has once again led a mid-major team into the tournament. In fact this is the 12/5 upset I kind of like. Dan Monson put his 49ers through a very tough non-conference schedule to get his team ready for March. They beat Pitt and then also played Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn, Kansas State and Xavier. They are going to be tournament ready and a tough out for New Mexico.
11 - Colorado State
Head Coach Tim Miles has never coached the Gophers but his name often gets brought up as the eventual replacement for Tubby Smith. Formerly at NDSU and now in his 5th year at Colorado State he has the Rams in the NCAA Tournament. This team also has Colten Iverson on their bench, he'll be able to contribute next year.
5 - Vanderbilt
Shelby Moats is a Minnesota kid from Waconia. He is a freshman who rarely plays. But Festus Ezeli is another interesting name on the Commodores roster. The big man nearly ended up playing for Minnesota, a name like that is hard to forget.
12 - Harvard
The Crimson are facing Vandy and they will use freshman, Jonah Travis. Travis is a forward from Minneapolis. He has played in 29 games this year averaging just under 7 minutes and 2.4 points per game. Since I've already given away my bracket secrets, I kind of like this as a potential upset too. Vandy has been inconsistent, maybe they are feeling pretty good about themselves after knocking off Kentucky. Or may be they are hot and will run to the Elite 8.
7 - Gonzaga
Osseo's own Sam Dower is a key player for the Bulldogs. The sophomore, who strongly considered the Gophers, plays under 20 minutes per game and scores 8.5. He has put up 15+ on eight different occasions so he is certainly capable of being a significant offensive factor. Add him to the list of kids we could really use right now, in a sense he just chose to transfer out of Minnesota before his college career began.
11 - West Virginia
The Mountaineers have a freshman from Minnesota. Kevin Noreen is a 6-10 kid from Minneapolis and was playing quite a few minutes through mid-January. His playing time then dropped off considerably and he hasn't played in a game since 1/30. I don't know if it was an injury or coach's decision but you are not likely to see him against Gonzaga.
8 - Creighton
The Bluejays heavily rely on Doug McDermott, the coach's son who could have gone anywhere but chose Creighton. But one of their key bench players is Eden Prairie's Ethan Wragge. The sophomore forward played in all 33 games, averages 16 minutes, 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. I am really looking forward to watching Creighton and McDermott, now I'll have a local kid to pull for as well.
12 - California
The Golden Bears may not make it out of the
play-in first round game against South Florida but if they do we will all get to watch Justin Cobbs lead them from the point. Everyone points to the losses of White and Joseph to transfer because those guys are scoring a ton for their teams, but losing Cobbs may have been the most detrimental. Last year when Nolen went down I have no doubt we would have won a couple more games and snuck into the NCAA Tournament with a point guard on the roster. And this year we could have used a Big Ten caliber, "true" point guard down the stretch in a few critical games. But it didn't work out that way.
By my count that is 13 kids outside of the Big Ten who in some way or another "left us." Add to that the Minnesota kids on Wisconsin's roster and you have an NCAA Tournament caliber All-Left Us team. Coached by Dan Monson, of course.
2012 All-Left Us Team
PG - Jordan Taylor - Wisconsin
SG - Nate Wolters - South Dakota State
SF - Royce White - Iowa State
PF - Sam Dower - Gonzaga
C - Jared Berggren - Wisconsin
Bench - Justin Cobbs - Cal
Bench - Mike Bruesewitz - Wisconsin
Bench - Jordair Jett - Saint Louis
Bench - Ethan Wragge - Creighton
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