Gophers Upset Michigan State, Set Up Key Clash With Purdue

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By Mike Gallagher

Minnesota looked like they were ready to punch their ticket to the Big Ten Semifinals Friday with a 55-48 lead with 3:27 left to play.

But you had to know it wasn’t over.

Michigan State went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 55 which had every Gopher fan in the crowded Minneapolis bar I happened to be at thinking; Here we go again.

In their last matchup the Gophers dominated Michigan State the first 35 minutes of play, leading by eight with 7 minutes left, before abruptly forgetting how to score and losing 65-64, a loss that haunts the Gophers to this day.  Had they won that game, certainly the Gophers would find themselves on the more forgiving end of Joe Lunardi’s bubble.

But unlike their last meeting, when Michigan State made their run Friday, the Gophers weathered the storm, holding the Spartans scoreless the last 1:30 of regulation.

After they rode out the last of the 40 minutes of scheduled play, the Gophers seized the bull by the horns.

Sensing their season slipping away and with no momentum going into the extra session whatsoever, a mere backup-to-start-the-season took over.

“I was in the zone to the point of where I wasn’t really thinking too much, I was just playing basketball.”

Devoe Joseph’s two threes in OT were what keyed this Gopher victory, and prompts me to think he should think less often, and just play basketball.

With 17, he led the Gophers in scoring, with key contributions from Colton Iverson’s 6-9 shooting performance, as well as Blake Hoffarber’s four treys.

Minnesota, however, did not get as lucky with other at-large contenders as they did on Thursday.

San Diego State all but assured themselves a bid Friday with a 72-69 upset over #8 New Mexico.

Georgia Tech shocked #19 Maryland, defeating them 69-64 in the ACC quarterfinals to lock up a bid in the NCAAs.

Washington beat Stanford, who had already played spoiler to Arizona State the night before.  That win, according to multiple bracketologists, doesn’t give Washington a for-sure tournament spot, but essentially the Huskies are in, which should give the PAC-10 two teams.

Mississippi State defeated Florida in a matchup of the bubble teams, which also hurt the Gophers.  If Florida would’ve won you could’ve written off Mississippi State and since Florida was probably already in, it wouldn’t have hurt the Gophers in any way.  But this result leaves it open ended, with Florida still probably getting in, while Mississippi State enhances their resume and surely is in with a win in the SEC semifinals over Vanderbilt Saturday.  As it sits now, Mississippi State is right on the bubble with the Gophers.

Rhode Island crushed St. Louis, who was probably already out of the tournament, and padded their tournament resume.  Should they beat #1 A-10 seed Temple on Saturday, they would be in without a doubt.  As of now, Rhode Island is another team sitting directly on the bubble with Minnesota.

The worst piece of news for the Gophers came early in the day, when Illinois pulled off the Big Ten quarterfinal upset of Wisconsin, avenging their 15-point loss a week ago.

The only good thing that happened for the Gophers, aside from their win, on Friday was Ole Miss losing to Tennessee 76-65 in the SEC quarters, effectively popping their bubble and eliminating one more contender.

Looking at esteemed bracket beast Joe Lunardi’s bubble, he has four slots left for nine teams.  But looking at it rationally, which he seems to not be doing, you have to eliminate three of those teams.

Arizona State, Seton Hall, and Ole Miss simply didn’t do enough in their conference tournaments to justify a slot.

That would leave four spots for six teams, and as much as I hate to say it, especially considering my claim that the Gophers would be in if they beat Michigan State, it looks like the Gophers still haven’t secured anything.

With all the upsets bubble teams pulled on Friday, it seems the Gophers, along with Rhode Island, Illinois, and Mississippi State, are four teams vying for two spots.  It looks like the other two bubble spots will go to Washington, which has stepped up in the PAC-10 tournament, and Florida, who despite losing to Mississippi State has much better computer numbers than the Bulldogs and only one awful loss (South Alabama) compared to four for Mississippi State outside the RPI top-100 (Western Kentucky, Rider, Auburn, Arkansas).

I’m not going out on much of a limb by saying Mississippi State will lose to #23 Vanderbilt and Rhode Island will go down to #17 Temple Saturday.

That leaves Minnesota and Illinois, which seems easy right?  Just put them both in is what I’m sure you’re saying.  If they both win on Saturday, hats off to them and go ahead, if URI and MSU lose put them both in.  But as influential of a run as Illinois has been on, it seems impossible for them to beat Ohio State.  That being said, the Buckeyes looked rough against Michigan Friday.

Then there’s the Gophers.  Should Illinois lose and Minnesota go down to a Robbie Hummel-less Purdue, I don’t know why, but it seems like Illinois will be in over Minnesota.

I don’t understand that considering the two have nearly identical profiles except for the fact that the Gophers have won six of their last eight while Illinois has lost five of it’s last eight, and that other little fact of Minnesota beating Illinois 62-60 in their one meeting this year.

The Gophers need to play Purdue very close if not beat the Boilermakers on Saturday to feel ok about their chances come Sunday.

The good thing for Minnesota is that this game is very similar to the Michigan State contest.  The last time the two teams met it was a one-point defeat for the Gophers, and Minnesota has already avenged their one-point loss to the Spartans.

Purdue is obviously missing their best player, and looked shaky against Northwestern today.  More good news is the Boilermakers lack a top point guard, which has troubled the Gophers mightily in Al Nolen’s absence.

For Minnesota, Lawrence Westbrook once again did not show up, going 2-8 from the field, while Ralph Sampson didn’t score a point and the Gophers still beat the 11th best team in the land.

This would suggest the Gophers still haven’t played their best basketball, and if Westbrook and Sampson bring it today, it would seem the Gophers have a solid shot to upset another Big Ten powerhouse.

Devoe Joseph and Colton Iverson have played very well in this Big Ten tournament, and both will be important, especially down the stretch in this game where the Gophers have struggled offensively.

Can Minnesota continue the magic?  They’ll probably have to to lock down a bid in the NCAA tournament, and it wouldn’t be terrible if they got some help in these games tomorrow:

Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt:  State might need this game to get serious consideration for the tournament, but if they do get it the Gophers might be in trouble without that win today.  Vandy defeated the Bulldogs by three in their only clash this year.

Rhode Island @ Temple:  URI is right there, but with a loss the door would be open for the Gophers to get in front of them even with a solid loss.  Honestly, the committee can’t really put Rhode Island and their one RPI top-50 win in ahead of the Gophers can they?  That RPI stat proves even more that Rhode Island has no chance to win this game.  They’ve already gotten beat twice by Temple this year.

Illinois @ Ohio State:  This game is worrisome for the Gophers because of how bad Ohio State looked today.  That being said, they still got the win, as Evan Turner wouldn’t let them lose.  I can’t imagine he will let them lose tomorrow, either, and Illinois looked bad in their two events this year, losing by 19 and 16.  Another blowout like that and the Gophers could be sitting pretty with a solid showing tomorrow.

It’s becoming simpler every day for the Gophers, but I’m sure Tubby Smith has preached the simplicity of the situation all along:  Win.  Everything else will take care of itself.

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  1. i enjoy & am educated by the in depth bracketology analysis of bracketology.. watching the gophers roll over purdue right now & that has got to influence the selection committee… can minnesota actually go ahead & sweep the tourney???!!!…

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