If you are following the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, you know tomorrow night's championship game matches two teams that were not supposed to be there according to the tournament committee who sets up seeding the brackets.
This year's tournament had many upsets and many great games! There were a record overtime games, with five overtime games so far, four of those happening on the first day. All in all, it has been an exciting tournament to watch even with everybody's brackets being busted to smithereens! I do not think anybody would have picked Kentucky or University of Connecticut, or as they are better known, UConn to win the whole thing. Warren Buffett's offer was safe after the second round.
But, I do not really want to talk about The Big Dance in this post. I would rather address that other tournament and who won it on Thursday night! That is correct, I want to take a few minutes and discuss our own Minnesota Gophers and their National Invitation Tournament Championship and what I believe it means to the program, the University, the head coach and recruiting for next year. A first-year coach has a 25-13 record, which is officially the most wins by a Golden Gopher basketball team, loses only three seniors, wins the NIT in only his second year as a head coach, has his mother and Hall of Fame coach/father cheering him on from right behind the bench is quite a feat!
But first, let me give you a quote from junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu who looked as he was close to crying as well as beaming a huge smile right after the game. "I can't stop smiling. It's like the best feeling. I know it's not the NCAA tournament, but this feels so good … Were going to all hopefully have a big summer and hopefully make a run in the big-boy tournament next year."
Granted, the NIT does not carry the prestige it used to before the NCAA tournament was expanded from 16 teams to 32 teams to 64 teams to 65 teams and now, 68 teams. However, you cannot take away a national championship trophy from this group of student/athletes, coaches, trainer and manager in this picture:
Click on the picture to enlarge the photo:
It was fun watching the confidence
and self-esteem build in these players as they won all five games in the
tournament! It was especially fun to watch the underclassmen play three
good games at Williams Arena as they came into their own.
There were times we wondered if they were going to make it to New York, but as each game developed and players came through in clutch situations, you could see them growing as basketball players. That is what a coach wants to see!
In the final game at Williams Arena, senior guard and team co-captain, Austin Hollins played a key role down the stretch to win that game and send them off to play at least one game in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden (MSG). As it turned out, they narrowly beat Florida State in the semifinals in overtime 67-64 to go on and beat Southern Methodist University in the championship game 65-63.
Both games in MSG were hard-fought, back-and-forth, good games with several mistakes on both sides; but, in the end our Golden Gophers won a close game by only two points! It was fun to watch!
First-year coach Richard Pitino was only hired in April and did not have a chance to get a good hold on recruiting some top-notch players. Now, with a national championship trophy in tow and five of his top seven scorers returning, he has some positive building blocks to show new recruits.
I am looking forward to next year already. The Barn will be rockin' again come November. I cannot wait!
As always, I look forward to your comments.