From my Jan. 26 blog:
There is an unwritten rule in college basketball: When your favorite team beats an opponent that is not in the Top-25, not in the top-five in its conference, has no historical relevance, or is not your bitter rival, you don’t rush the floor. Nevertheless, when the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Gophers two Sundays ago, we saw the Hoosiers faithful storm the court. Such debauchery should be reserved for a special win.
In the name of the "Green Man" (where has he been this year?), U of M students have rushing-the-court privileges this Wednesday when the Gophers take on No. 3 Purdue with a chance to knock off a top-five team at "The Barn" for the first time since February 12, 1992. That Clem Haskins-led Gopher team beat Bobby Knight's No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers 71-67. You have to go back to January 26, 1989, when the Gophers beat No. 1 Illinois 69-62 to find a win over a top-three team.
Purdue comes in riding a nine-game winning steak, with Big Ten road wins at Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois. They also have non-conference wins over West Virginia, Tennessee, Wake Forest, and at Alabama. They are Final Four-caliber, and are one of the few teams legitimately in the national championship conversation.
On Saturday, they beat a good Illinois team with their two best players -- JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel -- shooting a combined 5-for-23 from the field. They consistently find different ways to win without having any real stars.
Gophers head coach Tubby Smith has done the same in years past, getting his teams to the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 16 years. He has won at least 20 games in 16 consecutive seasons. Nevertheless, his genius tendencies haven't been on display enough almost three years into his tenure.
It's time for that to change on Wednesday night. A win and they have a chance at an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Right now, they would not be in, even after an impressive week.
The Gophers got their best win of the season last Wednesday versus No. 14 Wisconsin. Against the Badgers, Smith's 3-2 zone worked wonderfully. Then on Saturday night, they got their most decisive Big Ten win in hammering Indiana by 23 points. It is hard to quantify, but however you measure mojo, the Gophers have it at perhaps their highest level of the season. Maybe it’s the shaved heads, but watching the last two games, I can't help but wonder how they lost at Indiana or at home to Michigan.
Smith complained after the Michigan loss that his team didn't do the little things like taking charges, diving for loose balls, etc. Whatever he has said since then has worked. Now, Tubby’s magic is rearing its head.
In the Gophers' favor Wednesday is homecourt advantage -- the Gophers are 13-2 at Williams Arena. There are few places tougher to win at than "The Barn" when it's rockin', and it most assuredly will be on Wednesday. In addition to the menacing crowd, Purdue could possibly be looking ahead to its matchup with Michigan State next Sunday. That game will likely decide the Big Ten title.
In many ways, Wednesday will ultimately decide the Gophers' postseason fate. A loss and the only way they avoid the NIT is to win the Big Ten tournament. Smith, in discussing Purdue to the Big Ten Network, stated "We are trying to get to that level."
A win Wednesday offers significant hope that eventually they will.