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Minnesota Basketball: A Gopher Linings Playbook

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This season has been a true test of patience and resolve. But it's not all bad.

Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer are trending in the right direction.
Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer are trending in the right direction.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Like most of humanity, I have a huge bone to pick with Myron Medcalf, which is probably best expanded on in a separate post, for the sake of word count. So, when he called the Gophers "one of the worst teams in college basketball" in his Maryland/Minnesota recap, I was like, really? Literally one of the worst? Nevermind the Delaware States and Presbyterians and the entire SWAC, the Golden Gophers are apparently smack dab in the running for worst squad in America.

Lol okay. [eggplant emoji]

I hate that kind of shock jock hyperbole, but let's not bury the lede. That comment got me thinking. Yes, the Gophers are bad, but they really don't look 7-19 bad. They look more like, say, 10-16 bad. And that's a big leap. 10-16 is a down year; 7-19 is borderline historic. And, honestly, this does not look like a historically bad team. A historically bad team does not beat Maryland, or take Iowa to wire on the road or other similar close calls. They're not god-awful, they're just unlucky. I think.

So I poked around kenpom.com looking for some ammo and sure enough, the luck rating jumped out. Ken has the Gophers ranked 318th (!) in luck. 318th. Now THAT can legitimately be considered nationally pathetic. And according to science, it's not just that the Gophers are bad, they're supremely unlucky. That's the thing about luck, though. It's hard to control. But I think that normalizes any "worst team in America" talk. If the Gophers were just average in the luck department, instead of star-crossed, they'd be more in that just-a-down-year category rather than being compared to a 1920s team that lost to St. Olaf.

So what's the point? For all the talk about how bad this team is, they might actually be underrated, compared to what their record indicates. And there are actually some silver linings we can draw from this season, regardless of the actual record. To wit:

Have you seen Nate Mason recently? That's 14 or more points in seven of his last eight games. He's assisting, taking care of the ball and getting the job done. And this is against tournament-level competition. Food for thought: Denzel Valentine, Yogi Ferrell, Mike Gesell and, probably, Melo Trimble are all gone next year. It's not a huge leap to see Mason as one of the top point guards in the conference as a result. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Ditto for Jordan Murphy -- He's quieted down some in the rebounding department, but he's still a beast. And he ranks 5th in the conference in boards. 11 points and 8 boards a game? That's a solid foundation. He's one less stupid foul per game away from contributing even more instead of sitting on the bench.

This year's team is hardly representative of next year's -- I don't want to say that this season has no bearing on next year, but let's get real. Next year's team is going to look 50% different in terms of personnel. Amir Coffey, Reggie Lynch, Davonte Fitzgerald and Eric Curry are all going to get major minutes next year. Michael Hurt is in the mix for sure. That's a lot of new, high-quality blood. And we're not talking Carlos Morris here; these are impact players., and they're going to significantly impact the face of the team.

Dupree McBrayer is going to be good -- This is my reach in terms of a silver lining, but no one can tell me Dupree is not trending in the right direction. He still plays like a freshman, but the glimpses of impact are becoming more and more frequent which implies he's less of flash in the pan. He's smooth, long and quick. Pair that with additional maturity and I like where he's headed.

Look, it's not like the Gophers are going to go from potentially being a 3-15 B1G team to tournament-bound in one year, but I think they're definitely sandbagging with this year's record (KenPom would agree, wholeheartedly). And if you subscribe to the idea that they look and play like more of a 6-win B1G team, it's not a crazy leap to think they could win 8 conference games next year. Especially when they'll have a significant addition by subtraction and even addition by addition in terms of personnel.

Any other positives to take away so far?