Gophers Need NIT Sense of Urgency

The Gophers are in postseason play on Tuesday against Maryland in the NIT, but they need to figure out a way to win without so many dramatics.

The Gophers had a number of chances. Road wins over UNLV or Florida State would have boosted their resume. And nail-biters against Michigan State on the road and Indiana at home could have easily gone their way. But they couldn't rack up the wins necessary to get into the Big Dance.

That's why they're playing Maryland March 18 at home in the NIT. It's not the ideal setup for a team that was hoping for its first NCAA tourney appearance since 2005, after an 11-win improvement from last year.

It's hard to say how the Gophers will fare. They had an emotional run in the Big Ten Tournament. A 16-point comeback in the first round against Northwestern was followed by a blown 16-point lead against Indiana in the second round that culminated with Blake Hoffarber's game winner as time expired.

But if the Gophers play as well as they did against Indiana, they'll have a chance to make a lot of noise in the "other" tournament. And beating a team like Maryland, a midseason bubble team, would strengthen the team's confidence and solidify this season's turnaround.

Minnesota, however, could also come out flat and go home right away. The team is tired after traveling to two road games to end the regular season before flying to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament.

Seniors Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie and Spencer Tollackson have all played in the NCAA Tournament. Their wisdom and poise will help the Gophers in the NIT, assuming they all show up as a unit, which hasn't happened in a while.

IN FOCUS: Maryland's not the Maryland of old. But after a win over North Carolina, Maryland was an immediate bubble team before a poor finish in the ACC. They haven't been an automatic win for any team. They're dishing out 16.5 assists per game compared to their opponents' 12.1. Minnesota will have to apply heavy defensive pressure early. They'll have to play an up-tempo style that stops the Terrapins from getting into a rhythm in order to grab the win.

NOTES

  • After Blake Hoffarber hit his already famous buzzer beater to give the Gophers the win over Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, his teammates tackled him, hugged him and high-fived him. But wrapped up in that special moment was a sour one. The Gophers have a tendency to wait until it's too late to get back into games.

  • As Spencer Tollackson hobbled around on a bad ankle throughout the Big Ten tourney, you wanted to feel sorry for him. But in the first part of a semifinal loss against Illinois, Tollackson was one of the few Gophers playing with a sense of urgency. Too often, the Gophers need adversity to get riled up in a game. That's why the NIT is a bad tournament for them. There's not a whole lot on the line. They don't always perform in those situations.

    Tollackson is still nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of most of the Big Ten Tournament.

    COACH: Tubby Smith, first year at Minnesota, 14 consecutive seasons in the NCAA Tournament until this season.

    LAST POSTSEASON APPEARANCE: Second round, 2006 NIT, lost to Cincinnati 76-62.

    THEY'LL ADVANCE IF: Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence McKenzie have success from the 3-point line. When they hit outside shots, Minnesota's bigs play bigger in the paint.

    SCOUTING REPORT: Minnesota's full-court press frustrates most teams. The Gophers forced Indiana to commit 26 turnovers in their first meeting. But with only 11 healthy players, the Gophers don't have the energy to sustain it. Also, post players Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson don't always play at a high level, but they can.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we'll be ready to play." — Tubby Smith, Gophers head coach.

    GAME REVIEW

    Minnesota 55, Northwestern 52

    Minnesota 59, Indiana 58

    Illinois 54, Minnesota 50

    GAME PREVIEW

    vs. Maryland, Tuesday, March 18, NIT, first round


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