March Madness is nearly here and the Golden Gopher’s are #1!
Well, sort of.
After Friday’s blowout (83 – 57) loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, the Gophers found themselves on the outside of the proverbial “Bubble” looking in on “Selection Sunday,” failing to earn one of the 68 coveted berths to the prestigious NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Shortly after being shunned for a ticket to the Big Dance, the Gopher men received some consolation by being chosen as a #1 seed in the National Invitational Tournament (or NIT).
Within college basketball circles, the NIT has acquired a strong stigma as little more than a “left-overs” bracket which includes “the best of the rest” of the teams that were not invited to the NCAA Tournament. For lots of Gophers’ fans, a number one ranking in the NIT means something more like a number 69 overall ranking nationally, and many see it as a disappointment.
The Gophers started the season a promising (11 – 2), but finished (8 – 10) in conference play while faltering down the stretch, losing eight of their final 12 games including the lopsided, fate-sealing defeat to the Badgers this past weekend.
Despite being passed over for a shot at March Madness’s main stage, Gophers’ first year head coach Richard Pitino remained positive in his comments about the team’s prospects in the lesser-known NIT.
“While we are obviously disappointed that we were not selected for the NCAA Tournament field, we are extremely excited about the opportunity to continue our season in the NIT,” said coach Pitino. “There is nothing better than the opportunity to play for a championship, and our players and staff are looking forward to the challenge, beginning Tuesday night against High Point.”
This year is the Gophers’ 13th appearance in the NIT. They finished as the runner-up in 2012, losing to Stanford in the championship game. They also won the NIT during the 1992 – 93 season (and once more in 1997 – 98, although that particular title was later vacated due to athletic fraud sanctions).
The top-seeded Gophers (20 – 13) open NIT play tonight against #8 seed High Point at 7:15 p.m at Williams Arena. High Point went (16 – 14) this season, winning the Big South Conference’s regular season title before losing (62 – 60) to Winthrop in their conference tournament. According the High Point’s website, this is their first appearance in the NIT in school history.
The NIT Postseason Championship — which includes 32 teams — starts tonight and continues until April 3rd, with the semifinal and final games being played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Photo via: NIT