The beauty of sport is uncertainty.
It's why thousands flock to Vegas to place bets. It's why brackets are busted in a matter of hours on the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis. It's why you once heard Al Michaels yelp with glee, "DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?! YES!!!!!!!"
If things happened according to plan in every game in any sport, whether it be college basketball or the International Cricket World Cup, people wouldn't watch. They'd look at the numbers, the rankings, and the expected outcome associated with each participating team and say, Team A will win this game because Team A is better than Team B. And that would be that. But it doesn't work like that. Ohio State was the #4 in the first College Football Playoff. How did that work for #1 seeded Alabama and #2 seeded Oregon?
Listen, I am as disappointed as anyone at how this season has gone for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. And there will be ample time to discuss things about this season we liked and didn't like. But the season isn't over quite yet. I know in the mind of some, it might as well be and that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, it would be quite strange to pronounce ultimatums and proclamations about the 2014-2015 Golden Gophers before they had played their entire schedule out.
With this in mind, let's look forward to the Big Ten Tournament. I am not under any illusions that we will actually win this and receive the coveted automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This is more of an exercise in "fandom" than logic. So please refrain from calling me a cock-eyed optimist like a certain Billy Mumphrey. This is more for fun than anything. But considering the season isn't over just yet and that we've seen anything can happen in the realm of sports, let's look at three reason why the Gophers could win each potential match-up they might have in the Big Ten Tournament.
Game 1 - Wednesday, March 11 vs. #14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
1. We have already defeated Rutgers once this season in relatively convincing fashion.
2. We have more talent than the Scarlet Knights do.
3. The Scarlet Knights have won 2 conference games all season. One was at home against Wisconsin without the National Player of the Year and their starting point guard in the lineup. One was at home against Penn State where DJ Newbill shot 4-17 from the field. Point being, both were very "special-case" scenarios.
Game 2 - Thursday, March 12 vs. #6 Ohio State Buckeyes
1. The Buckeyes were an overall +9 in points in nine road games in the Big Ten. Meaning their average point differential per road game was +1. Away from Value Center Arena, Ohio State is vulnerable.
2. They just got absolutely trounced by Wisconsin at home on senior day. They might be hung over after a laying an egg against a marquee opponent.
3. We played them to overtime at the Barn so we won't be intimidated.
Game 3 - Friday, March 13 vs. #3 Michigan State Spartans
1. We beat them at the Breslin Center earlier this season. No intimidation and a boat load of confidence after two victories the previous two days.
2. It is rumored that Tom Izzo doesn't often emphasize the Big Ten Tournament in order to rest and better prepare for the NCAA Tournament the following weekend, which the Spartans will most definitely be a part of this year. RUMORED. I'm not saying this is true per se, just throwing it out there.
3. The Spartans turn the ball over at an extremely high rate and we force a lot of turnovers. This is a good match-up defensively and our press will exploit this weakness.
Game 4 - Saturday, March 14 vs. (likely opponent) #2 Maryland Terrapins
1. The Terrapins are vulnerable away from home. They lost to Illinois and Iowa on the road, two teams the Gophers beat.
2. Maryland is currently ranked as the number 1 luckiest team in the country by KenPom. This game their luck runs out.
3. The Gophers can pound the paint with Maurice Walker, who could over-power the undersized starting lineup of the Terrapins.
Game 5 - Sunday, March 15 vs. (likely opponent) #1 Wisconsin Badgers
1. You know the old saying in sports, "It's hard to beat a team three times in one season." This rings true and the Gophers find a way to beat a red-hot Badger squad.
2. Similar to last year's contest at the Barn, the Gophers force Frank Kaminsky into early foul trouble, allowing them to wreck havoc in the first half in the paint.
3. With confidence sky high and a four game winning streak in hand, the Gophers finish what they started four days ago thanks to Andre Hollins channeling his inner Gerry McNamara.
So there you have it. The blueprint for the Gophers to become one of the first teams to beckon in the madness that encompasses March. We've all felt pretty depressed the way the season has gone but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the last glimpse of Gopher basketball for 8 whole months. Plus if George Mason can beat a team with four first-round draft picks, who's to say miracles don't happen in sports?