Tourney preview: Minnesota
All day, we'll break down each team's chances at the Big Ten tournament at the United Center:
No 9 seed: Minnesota
Their coach ... might be calling games for the BTN next season. If legendary Tubby Smith doesn’t get his Gophers in the NCAA tournament, Minnesota AD Norwood Teague might reach for the phone and dial old friend Shaka Smart.
Their MVP ... is as old as Loren Tate. Sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe (below) showed plenty of courage coming back from a serious knee injury, leading the Big Ten in rebounding (9.8) while impressing skeptical NBA scouts.
Their Chicago connection ... Gophers won the first Big Ten tournament game ever played. Kind of. Even though Minnesota beat Northwestern 64-56 in front of 20,400 fans at the United Center on March 5, 1998, the team’s appearance was later voided due to shenanigans by Clem Haskins.
They’ll cut down the nets if ... they strip the basketball court off the United Center floor and switch to hockey. The second-ranked Gophers are one of the favorites to win the Frozen Four at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
They’ll be bummed if ... reality sets in. After beating Illinois on Jan. 9, the Gophers were 15-1 and ranked eighth. They’ve sputtered since, going 5-10 overall and 0-8 away from Williams Arena.
We see the Gophers ... sweating out Selection Sunday. Joe Lunardi has the Gophers as a No. 9 seed in this week’s bracket. But a Thursday loss to Illinois could jeopardize their at-large bid.