Despite getting run out of Madison on Sunday to end the regular season, it was a fantastic and wildly unexpected season for the Golden Gophers. On the heels of last year’s debacle, the Gophers were universally considered to be a bottom 3 team in the league. But this team turned out to be very competitive, balanced, a lot of fun and renewed many Gopher fan’s interest in Gopher basketball again.
The season is not yet over, plenty of time for memories to be made, but I wanted to take this Monday morning to thank Gopher basketball for making it fun again.
Highlights of the Regular Season
Here are just some of the highlights of the 2016-17 Regular Season...
- The 8-game winning streak stands out as a significant highlight. Immediately following a 5-game losing streak when confidence in the team was low, they put it all together and strung together 8 straight Big Ten wins, highlighted by a win at Maryland.
- Amir Coffey breaking out at home against St. Johns with 30 points. This was the moment when we knew we had something special in the legacy freshman. Not only did he break out and erupt The Barn, but there were a handful of local recruits in attendance to witness his monster game.
- Nate Mason’s 31 points at Purdue. Not only was is so much fun to watch Mason drain shot after shot, but this was following a tough loss to Michigan State and the questions of how this team would hold up in the Big Ten were starting. Turns out this was a signature win...on the road...over the eventual Big Ten champ. Purdue lost twice at home all season. Villanova and Minnesota. I’ll take being in that company.
- Reggie Lynch Block Party against Penn State. All season long it has been fun to watch Reggie Lynch dominate the Big Ten lane. But the Penn State game was particularly fun when the Gopher junior had 9 points and 11 blocks while also setting the Gopher single-season blocks record that particular game.
- Jordan Murphy flipping the switch and helping to turn the season around. Over the 5-game losing streak plus the Illinois win, Murphy averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds. Since then, over the final 8 games, he averaged 16 points and 12.5 rebounds. That turnaround was a huge reason the Gophers went on their run to finish 4th in the conference.
- Dupree McBrayer thriving in his new role and playing with supreme confidence against anyone. Dunks and stuff.
- Akeem Springs beating Indiana after shooting very poorly, Springs took the game-winning shot, missed, followed up his shot and make the put-back to beat the Hoosiers.
Big Ten Tournament followed by the NCAA Tournament. I’m not all that concerned about the former and very excited about the latter. A BTT run would be fun, but ultimately I have my eyes on the NCAA Tourney and hoping for a win or two there. A trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tourney makes this a memorable season.
Only a couple of things concerns me.
1 - playing a team that executes with precision and efficiency. I stated several times earlier in the season that we thrive against teams that are less effiecient/structured. While we struggle against teams that execute very well on both ends of the floor (see Michigan State and Wisconsin). And maybe it is more about facing really good defensive teams that take away penetration and do not foul.
We are a balanced and talented team, it’s not that we cannot beat efficient teams. But they are bad matchups for us. Virginia is an example of a team I would like to avoid in the NCAA Tourney.
2 - Injuries, particularly the bothersome back issues Akeem Springs is dealing with. This is nothing that is being reported as a major issue but it was mentioned by Coach Pitino after the Nebraska game and he hasn’t looked right shooting 1/12 the last two games and scoring a total of 3 points. I’d have zero problem sitting Springs this week, let him rest, heal and be ready for next weekend.
Looking like a 5 or 6-seed. A quick loss and the Gophers seem to be destined for a 6-seed. Win a game or two and a 5 is in their future. Either one is fine, the goal now is to pull of an upset and get to that second weekend. More to come on that when the brackets are released on Sunday.