What's up, Gophers fans? 

The Big Ten season kicks off Tuesday when Minnesota faces Penn State at Williams Arena.

Unlike last year, when a lot of the teams had impressive nonconference wins entering league play, most squads in the Big Ten will have to find signature victories in their own conference this season.

That should have a healthy impact on the level of competition this season.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN's bracketologist, discussed the league in a brief Q&A recently: 

With all of the tough losses the league’s suffered so far, any chance the Big Ten sends seven teams to the Big Dance this season?

It could still happen (but was never very likely). The reason is that way more things have to go right than wrong for any conference to send many more than half of their teams to the tournament. Now, with most of the non-league season in the books, the best-case scenario for the Big Ten would be six clearly separated at-large teams plus a seventh team good enough to win the automatic bid. Either that or they could expand immediately and add a Top 25 basketball school (ha, ha!).

2. Is it safe to assume that a 9-9 finish in Big Ten play won’t be worth as much this season in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee?

I would disagree with this assumption. Depends upon the team and also the in-conference schedule/results of that team. There are plenty of NCAA-level scalps to be had in league play this year. The key is to get your wins in the right combination (and location) on top of a reasonable non-conference performance. Does that make sense?

Any other thoughts on the Big Ten?

Reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. While performance hasn't (yet) matched expectations, perhaps those expectations were highly unrealistic. To me, it remains a conference with both great depth (for at-large berths) and "star power" (for potential Final Four advancement). We're not talking last year's SEC, for instance. This year's Big Ten could ultimately be better than last year's seven bids, but have fewer NCAA teams due to a different composition of "bubble" teams. To get three double-digit at-large teams as was the case a year ago is more of an accident than anything else.

My Big Ten Predicted Order of Finish


1. Purdue


2. Michigan State


3. Wisconsin


4. Ohio State


5. Minnesota


6. Illinois


7. Northwestern


8. Michigan


9. Penn State


10. Indiana


11. Iowa


-Clem Haskins comes back to the Barn Tuesday for a ceremony honoring the 1989-90 Gophers Elite Eight squad. It will be Haskins first trip to the Barn since he left the school a decade ago, following an academic scandal. Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, Haskins' friend, said Monday that he played a key role in the former coach's return.


“We all extended an invitation to him," Smith said. "We’re excited that he’s going to be here and pleased that he’s going to be here for it. It should be a fun time for them to reminisce with that team. … We’re happy to have Coach Haskins back.”


Smith said he planned to join Haskins and members of the Elite Eight squad for dinner at a Minneapolis restaurant Monday night.


-Hopkins stud Joe Coleman, the brother of former Minnesota standout Dan Coleman, is a "prospect" that the Gophers are watching. But the 6-3 junior hasn't officially received a scholarship offer, according to a source close to the team. The same source said the team likes Robbinsdale Cooper big man Calvin Godfrey but there are concerns about his academics.


-ESPN published a college basketball encyclopedia a few months ago. The sports giant's all-time starting five includes Jim Brewer, Voshon Leonard, Kevin McHale (named greatest player in Gophers history), Mychal Thompson and Whitey Skoog. Reaction from former Gophers standout Larry Mikan: "I think [Lou] Hudson should definitely be in there."



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