All but two players are expected to return next season. And one of the nation's top-20 recruiting classes will join a group of players who finished this season with a 22-11 record, an NCAA appearance and an upset win over the No. 1 overall seed, Louisville, only two seasons after going 9-22.
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith says he thought his team was going to make the NCAAs last season, but he's still ahead of schedule in the minds of many. This is a team that had lost three seniors who were also its top three scorers, brought in five newcomers but still had a better year than last season's squad.
The 6-foot-11 duo of Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III will benefit with some work in the weight room. Leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook will be back, too. Mr. Everything Damian Johnson's not going anywhere. And incoming freshman Royce White, a 6-7, 220-pound forward, might be better than anyone on Minnesota's roster right now. The only problem is that next season fans will expect even more.
TEXAS 76, MINNESOTA 62: The Gophers (22-11) jumped out to an 11-2 lead and kept things close for the entire first half. But Texas guard A.J. Abrams hit four 3-pointers in a row to blow open a three-point game, and the Longhorns rolled to a win in the NCAA Tournament's first round at Greensboro, N.C.
Dexter Pittman and his 6-foot-11, 298-pound frame scored 17 points against a much thinner Minnesota frontcourt.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Gophers used a relatively soft nonconference schedule to race out to a 16-1 start, then made it stand as they ended the season with five losses in their last eight games. The Gophers fell to Michigan in their regular season finale, then beat Northwestern in the first round of the tournament before losing to Michigan State in the quarterfinals. That 70-64 victory against Louisville in December now looms huge for the Gophers, since the Cardinals are considered the top seed in the tournament.
SCOUTING REPORT: Minnesota's depth and ability to rotate players were well documented, but that also left the Gophers without a real go-to player. Lawrence Westbrook was the only player in double figures in points (12.4), but even he was benched for a stretch late in the season. The Gophers won with defense, but they were prone to turnovers for prolonged stretches. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III gave them a pair of athletic 7-foot freshmen, difficult for any team to match up against.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Tubby deserves the credit. Tubby, I believe, is one of the great coaches in America. I think what I love about him is that he, which is true of all good coaches, gets the best out of each individual young person that plays for him." — Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, to the Star Tribune.
Minnesota 66, Northwestern 53 (Big Ten tournament first round)
Michigan State 64, Minnesota 56 (Big Ten tournament quarterfinals)
Texas 76, Minnesota 62 (NCAA Tournament East Regional first round)