Are the Minnesota Golden Gophers a sexy upset pick in your bracket? And I don’t mean sexy like the cheerleaders pictured above and below, I mean sexy as in trendy. The Gophers were #2 in strength of schedule this college basketball season. #2! Only the Duke Blue Devils are better. The Gophers played last night like they were trying to save Tubby’s job. The Gophers (21-12) were granted a No. 11 seed and blew out No. 6 UCLA (25-10) 83-63 Friday night at the Frank Erwin Events Center in Austin, Texas.
It was a postseason game between two coaches (Tubby Smith and Ben Howland) who will find themselves on the hot seat next year. It reminded me a little of another UCLA postseason game in another sport versus another Big Ten team- the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl when the UCLA Bruins lost to the Illinois Fighting Illini (when both coaches Ron Zook and Rick Neuheisel) were both fired. That was the “somebody had to win” bowl. This was the “somebody had to win” invitational.
And when UCLA star guard Jordan Adams went down, lots of people started picking the Gophers. Because when you get an offense run by Tar Heels transfer Larry Drew II, you get 12 points in the first 13 minutes.
The Gophers were placed in the South region, with their pod in Austin. They now face No. 3 Florida (27-7) who defeated No. 14 Northwestern State (23-9) on Friday night. This was the third NCAA Tournament appearance ever, all in the last 13 years, for Northwestern St. That’s three more than Northwestern.
This marks Tubby Smith’s 17th trip to the NCAA Tournament in his 22nd season as a head coach. The Gophers’ win against Big Ten bottom-feeder Penn State in their regular season finale gave Smith his 19th season with 20 or more wins. Minnesota has won at least 20 games in five of his six seasons at the helm. Smith is 29-15 all-time as a head coach in the NCAA Tournament, but his record in Minneapolis is far from impressive. Smith is worried about his job security. A nice deep run would do wonders for him. Another early exit and next year could be trouble. The Kentucky Wildcats fired him even though he won a national title.
So do the Gophers have a chance Sunday at 6pm? Maybe. Don’t bet your house on it. But it could happen.
Paul M. Banks is owner of The Sports Bank.net, He’s an author who also contributes regularly to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker Banks has appeared on Comcast SportsNet and the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)