By Mike Gallagher
Don’t get me wrong, winning the Big Ten Tournament would’ve been nice on a number of levels for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Not only would it have kept their ridiculous amount of late season momentum going right into the tournament with the auto bid they would’ve received, but in the big picture it also would be a great title and trophy to hold along with an unbelievable comeback story for the school that could be passed over for decades to come. When it seemed they were done, the 2010 Gophers made a memorable charge through the entire Big Ten to win the league and go to the NCAAs. You know, all that sentimental crap.
But let’s be completely serious, when it came down to the Gophers getting into this year’s tournament, Sunday’s game had nothing to do with it.
Minnesota is glad Sunday didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, because playing one half of average basketball doesn’t get it done against a top five team in the nation and the best player in the country, it gets you blown out by 29 like the Gophers were.
Yes, the Gophers were right on the bubble when Sunday began by most accounts, but beating two top 12 teams in the nation on back-to-back days while other bubble teams fell by the wayside time and time again was what really decided the Gophers fate.
It came down to the Gophers earning their way in, while others played their way out.
That’s why when the brackets were complete at roughly 5:45 central standard time, there was a team that had to be shocked it wasn’t in the field. They had played well down the stretch, seemingly earning their way in with a run to their conference tournament final, and almost beat the #2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Mississippi State should feel snubbed today, and it just doesn’t seem right that the Bulldogs went from a tenth of a second away from the automatic SEC bid, to playing Jackson State Tuesday night following the NCAA tournament play-in game.
While in the SEC tournament, they avenged earlier losses to NCAA participants Florida and Vanderbilt. Combine that with non-conference wins against NCAA tourney teams Houston and Old Dominion and you have to wonder how a team that gets hot and makes a run when it matters the most is left out.
Mississippi State lost twice to Kentucky in overtime and while those obviously are still losses, you would think playing the #2 team in the country that tough twice would count for something, especially when one is in a conference title game.
It seems that the Gophers and Mississippi State were in very similar situations Sunday, having played their way into the tournament, with even John Calipari saying that Mississippi State should be in after their performance against Kentucky, and how one gets in and the other doesn’t boggles the mind.
Both had nine conference wins heading into their tournaments, both finished the year with 20+ overall wins (Miss. St had 23 to Minnesota’s 21), both beat two NCAA tournament teams on the way to their conference title game, both teams RPI was hovering around 60. I’m not saying one is in over the other, but I believe both should be in with either Florida or UTEP being left out. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, the tournament committee didn’t see it the same way.
No field of 65 will be formed without someone feeling left out, so naturally every year there will be teams with cases and Mississippi State has as good of a case as anyone.
While I feel it was a mistake to leave them out, the committee did an otherwise excellent job of picking this field. The other two widely thought of snubs, Illinois and Virginia, have good cases, but Virginia did this to themselves, losing to the worst team in the ACC in the first round of the conference tournament. Illinois put up a valiant fight, getting their revenge on Wisconsin in their first tournament game, then losing a double overtime thriller against Ohio State. Their exclusion came down to their loss to Minnesota at home two weeks ago, as the Gophers and Illinois had very similar resumes aside from that game.
But good teams win games when they need to, and the Gophers knew they needed the Illinois game as well as a run in the conference tournament and they seized the opportunity and have given themselves a shot.
For Mississippi State, there was just no luck on their side, for one tenth of a second could’ve changed their heartbreak to exuberance.