Minnesota lost to Michigan 84-77 in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers will now await the results of Selection Sunday to find out their fate for the NCAA Tournament, the only tournament that actually matters in March. Nate Mason led all Minnesota scorers with 23.
Minnesota began the game sloppy and out of sorts. They committed three turnovers in the first four minutes and missed eight bunnies throughout the game. That was the difference between the two teams at the end. Credit Michigan for coming in with a strong game plan to stretch the floor and keep Reggie Lynch from being a defensive force. At the half, Minnesota was down 11.
The Gophers came roaring back to the tie the game early in the second half, but Michigan had just enough answers for Minnesota’s runs. Derrick Walton Jr. hit two key threes late to keep the game out of reach.
Today marked the dry run of the first game without Akeem Springs. Springs was particularly missed on the perimeter, as the Gophers shot just 23% from distance. He was also missed on the defensive end where his physicality and leadership had been key to Minnesota’s run late in conference play. It goes without saying that he will be missed for the rest of the season, however long it may be.
Without Springs, Pitino elected to play just a six man rotation, likely feeling that a win today was far more important than the possibility of a win tomorrow. Five of the six Minnesota players were in double figures, and Jordan Murphy was one rebound away from another double double. Mason, McBrayer, and Coffey played the entire game. That may or may not be sustainable in tournament play, but there should be confidence in the coaching staff to figure out how to best put together a rotation in Springs’s absence.
Conference tournaments are stupid. The notion that a team should be able to play its way into the tournament (albeit rare) after being terrible the entire season seems patently unfair. This is particularly damaging to mid-majors. Personally, I am rather annoyed at this tournament because Akeem Springs’s injury would not have happened in a just world where they awarded the conference title to the regular season champion.
Minnesota will next play in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a fun sentence to write.