Gophers Season could Be Over

Last season, the Gophers limped into the Big Ten tournament. A year later, they limped home after a first-round loss that likely pushed the Gophers well off the bubble and into the danger zone where being passed over for the NIT is a possibility.

A third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament is totally out of the question for the Golden Gophers, who were ranked 16th in the nation at 16-4 in mid-January but have unraveled since that time. Minnesota went 1-10, including Thursday's loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament, to end the season.

The loss of senior point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Maurice Walker (knee) gave coach Tubby Smith what he believes was his worst season as a head coach. His strong of 20-win seasons is over, and the postseason could be a no-go. That hasn't happened since he was 15-14 at Tulsa in 1993.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Tubby Smith has won at least 20 games for the last 17 seasons. But that streak is in serious jeopardy. The Gophers are 17-14 and would need three more wins to keep the streak going. It's unlikely for a team that has won just one game since Jan. 26. Smith is also on the first six-game losing streak of his career. He's hoping the Gophers are invited to the NIT, but it appears the longest of long shots that the NCAA Tournament committee will choose Minnesota.

--In the last regular season home game of his career, Blake Hoffarber connected on a pair of threes during a 66-63 loss to Penn State Sunday. He's the school's official three-point leader with 274 in his career. But Voshon Lenard is the true leader with 276. Lenard's stats, however, were vacated as a result of an academic scandal in the late '90s. If Hoffarber hits three more threes, however, he will be the undisputed three-point leader in Gophers history.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Seasons since the Gophers lost five games in a row. Dan Monson's tenure ended in the 2006-07 campaign after he lost five consecutive games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we gotta run him off more screens. Everybody knows Blake's going to touch the ball if we're down in late-game situation. We just gotta do a better job of setting screens and getting him open." -- Rodney Willliams on getting Blake Hoffarber more looks

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FUTURES MARKET: Tubby Smith's best perimeter threat is nothing more than a practice player right now. Oto Osenieks, a freshman wing, is redshirting this season, after playing in Illinois last year. He spent the bulk of his career in Latvia.

The NCAA granted him partial-qualifier status for the 2010-11 season. Smith said he's been "lighting it up" in practice this year. He called him the team's top perimeter shooter not named Blake Hoffarber, a career 41 percent shooter from beyond the arc.

Osenieks has packed on 18 pounds since he arrived in the fall. For a team that will lose Hoffarber after this season, it gives it a lot to look forward to.

PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Al Nolen suited up with his teammates on Senior Day Sunday. But he didn't play. The senior, who broke his foot in January, was recently cleared for light workouts. But Tubby Smith said he doubted the former starting point guard could get minutes during the Big Ten tournament, and it's out of the question for sure after a first-round loss. "I don't see it happening. Put it that way."


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