Wins at Purdue and at home against Ohio State have convinced the press enough for the Minnesota Golden Gophers to crack the AP men’s basketball poll, coming in at #24 for the week of January 9th, 2017.
This comes as little surprise to most tracking the poll, as the Gophers were the first team left out last week and on the back of two quality Big Ten wins were all but guaranteed a spot with several teams ahead of them losing this past week.
Coming off a season plagued with poor play and off-court incidents, the ranking is another step in one of the most drastic program about face in recent memory. The team finished 8-23 last season, including 2-16 in Big Ten play. On the backs of influential transfers Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs, improving junior point guard and leader Nate Mason, and freshman star Amir Coffey, Coach Richard Pitino and his Gophers have already surpassed last season’s conference win total as they stand at 3-1 in Big Ten play and 15-2 overall. Their only losses have come against Florida State in Tallahassee, ranked 9th this week in the AP Poll, and at home in overtime against Michigan State.
The biggest surprise might be that it isn’t just the media rankings that like the Gophers. Both less refined and advanced metrics are currently high on this Minnesota squad. They rank 5th in the nation in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a key albeit outdated metric that the Selection Committee still tends to lean heavily on come selection time, and 31st in the nation in KenPom efficiency rating, an advanced metric that often depicts a more realistic picture of a team’s quality.
An interesting note is that Minnesota’s KenPom rating continues to climb with each passing week, illustrating the continual improvement of the squad as the year goes on. The Gophers ended the 2015-2016 season ranked 192nd in the nation in KenPom’s ratings. They started this year 71st, based off of projections created from recruiting rankings and player improvement. That ranking has slowly yet consistently climbed as the numbers have more data to work with, with the current 31st ranking the high point for the year.
Hopefully, the squad doesn’t rest on their newly acquired laurels. They travel to Michigan State this Wednesday with a chance to avenge their only conference loss of the season thus far and then travel to University Park to take on a Penn State team that knocked off Michigan State this past weekend. There’s no rest for the weary in the Big Ten.
Congratulations to Coach Pitino and the team, as I’m sure the members who endured last season’s debacle might savor this for a moment or two!
Below are the full AP rankings.