The Minnesota Golden Gophers enter the NCAA Tournament with a 22-10 record and a seventh place finish in the Big 10. Minnesota is coming off of an NIT appearance last year, but hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
Minnesota went 3-0 in non-conference play against NCAA Tournament teams beating Cornell, North Dakota State and Louisville in Glendale, AZ. Cornell is the #14 seed in the West Region, North Dakota State is the #14 in the Midwest Region and Louisville is the #1 seed in the Midwest Region.
The program under the direction of Tubby Smith went undefeated in the non-conference at 12-0.
Minnesota dropped their first Big 10 game of the season at home to Michigan State 70-58 in which the Gophers were out rebounded 49-27.
The at-large team then followed with four wins in a row, including a 78-74 overtime win in Madison, WI over the Badgers.
Minnesota ended the regular season 21-9 and 9-9 in Big 10 play. They beat Northwestern in the first round of the conference tournament before losing to Michigan State for a third time, 64-56 in the quarterfinals.
The Golden Gophers have a 7-8 record versus the NCAA Tournament field. The Gophers went 0-3 against Michigan State, 1-1 against Ohio State, 2-0 vs. Wisconsin, 0-1 vs. Purdue, 1-1 against Illinois and 0-2 vs. Michigan in addition to the three wins in non-conference play.
Minnesota is 4-6 on the road and 2-1 on neutral courts this season.
Offense a struggle for the Gophers
Minnesota averages just 66.5 points per game on the season and that number dipped to 61.6 in Big 10 play. The Gophers shot just 41.8% from the field in conference play, including 31.2% from the three point line.
In fact, Minnesota scored 60 points or less in eight Big 10 games and was 3-5 in those games. The team, with just one senior, scored 70 points or more just three times with one being the overtime win over Wisconsin.
In non-conference play, the Gophers scored more than 80 points three times and 90 points once, which was a 90-76 win over fellow NCAA Tournament team North Dakota State.
The Gophers have made 10 or more three-pointers in a game twice this season, including once in Big 10 play against Northwestern.
Offensive rebounding is an offensive strength by the lengthy team. Minnesota averages 12.2 offensive rebounds per game and were second in rebound margin in conference play at +3.3.
The major problem for the Gophers on offense has been turnovers. The youthful team turned the ball over 10 times or more in all 18 conference games and 19 of 20 counting the Big 10 Tournament.
Minnesota averages 14.5 turnovers per game on the season, including 14.7 in conference play.
The strength of the team on the offensive end is free throw shooting. They led the Big 10 conference in free throw shooting at 75.5% and convert at a 71.5% clip on the season.
The Gophers are one of the top shot blocking teams in the country averaging 6.2 per game, with four games of ten blocked shots or more. Minnesota blocked a season high 17 shots against Bowling Green, 14 versus South Dakota State, 11 against Northwestern in the Big 10 Tournament and 10 versus Purdue.
Tubby Smith-coached teams are always terrific man-to-man defensive teams and that is the case this year. The Gophers surrender just 39.8% on the season, including 40.8% in conference play.
Minnesota leads the Big 10 in steals per game.
The Top Players
The leading scorer for the Gophers is 6-0 junior guard Lawrence Westbrook. The lone double figure scorer on the season averages 12.4 points per game, including 12.1 in conference play. Westbrook scored in double figures in 15 Big 10 games, including both conference tournament games. The junior has scored in double figures in 24 games on the season.
Westbrook scored a season high 29 points in the overtime in Madison over Wisconsin and is one of the top free throw shooters in the country at 85.5%.
Damian Johnson, a 6-7 junior forward, is one of the top all-around players in the conference. Johnson started all 29 games he played in averaging 9.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 blocked shots, 1.9 steals and 1.6 assists.
Johnson, from Thibodaux, LA, has scored in double figures in 14 games this season with a high of 21.
Freshman center Ralph Sampson III has been a key player of late for Minnesota. The 6-11, 220-pounder from Duluth, GA is averaging 6.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
The point guard is 6-1 sophomore Al Nolen. Nolen is averaging 6.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.9 steals on the season and has scored in double figures seven times. His season high is 18 points in the 70-64 win over Louisville.
Minnesota has had 11 players score in double figures in a game on the season.
Head Coach Tubby Smith
Tubby Smith coaches Minnesota and has a career record of 426-169, including 29-13 in the NCAA Tournament. Smith coached the Kentucky Wildcats to the 1997-98 NCAA Championship as well as three other Elite Eight appearances during his time in Lexington.
In 18 seasons as a head coach, Smith's teams have made appearances in the NCAA Tournament 15 times.
Smith is a graduate of High Point in North Carolina, where he played in college against Texas coach Rick Barnes, who attended Lenoir-Rhyne.
The Golden Gophers will be making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, including their first since 2005. They enter this year's tournament with a 6-5 record all-time.
Minnesota made an Elite Eight appearance in 1990 as well as a Sweet 16 in 1989.
The Golden Gophers also made the NCAA Tournament in 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999, but those seasons were forfeited due to sanctions. Minnesota advanced to the Final Four in 1997.
Minnesota defeated a Clemson Tigers team coached by Rick Barnes 90-84 in double overtime in the Sweet 16 in 1997.
Tony Dungy - Super Bowl champion head coach
Kevin McHale - NBA Champion and current head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves
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Bud Wilkinson - College Football Hall of Fame coach
Bruce Smith - 1941 Heisman Trophy winner
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