Gophers nab No. 10 seed in NCAA; will face Texas on Thursday
Despite their 4-7 record through February and March, Tubby Smith and his Golden Gophers made the NCAA's as a #10 seed in the tournament's East Region. They will face #7 seed Texas (22-11) on Thursday in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is Minnesota's first March Madness appearance since 2005 when the G-Men suffered a first round loss to Iowa State. The selection also marks the fourth different team Tubby has taken to the NCAA.
The Gophers were one of seven Big Ten clubs selected yesterday along with Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio St, Wisconsin, and Michigan; Penn State's bubble burst despite the fact that they had one more conference win than both the Gophers and Michigan.
Much like the Gophers, first-round opponent Texas started out the year exhibiting more heat than their season's tepid conclusion. The Longhorns began their campaign ranked 7th in the country back on October 27th. In mid-December, they climbed as high as 5th in the AP poll. Yet the winter exhibited a slow and steady descent for Texas as they fell out of the nation's top-ten in early January before finding themselves unranked on February 9th. On February 23rd, they made a brief ranking comeback as the #25 team in the country, before falling back out the ensuing week. Last Monday, they received the 40th most votes in the AP poll.
Back on January 27th, Texas was 15-4 with wins over ranked opponents UCLA and Villanova. Their conference season, however, proved sobering, as the Longhorns went 7-7 the rest of the way, ultimately finishing 6th in the Big 12. Sound familiar?
As the Gophers hope to provide some Cinderella flair to the Madness, the Metrodome was provided with some intriguing matchup drama for the Friday first round games that will be played beneath the bubble. Included in the first of the Dome's two rounds is #2 seed and Big Ten champ Michigan State. The Spartans will hoop with Robert Morris (the school, not the dude).
But of far greater local importance is the Friday matchup between defending national champion #3 seed Kansas and #14 seed North Dakota State University. NDSU made the tourney in their first year being eligible for inclusion, qualifying in dramatic fashion on March 10th as Ben Woodside's jumper with 3 seconds remaining finished off opponent Oakland (Mich.) 66-64 and crowned the Bison (26-6) Summit League champions. Woodside, a native of Albert Lea, drops in 22.8 per game - 10th best in the nation. A team from North Dakota has never before appeared in the Big Dance.
Please check back in ensuing days for a thorough Gophers vs. Longhorns handicap.
Until then, remember: be sure to fill out a few brackets in ensuing days (even if it's just for kicks - all should be involved and invested) and gamble only what you can afford to lose.
Here are a few free online brackets with prizes to get you started. Enjoy, and again, look for a Gopher and Texas capsule herein, likely on Wednesday: