It all came after the Gophers' latest escape act -- a 58-53 overtime victory over Wisconsin on Thursday at the Barn that, in our estimation, very well could have saved their season. At 6-6 in the conference now, and with a very nice non-conference resume, Minnesota would have to royally mess up to avoid the NCAA tournament. We can picture them at least being 9-9 in Big Ten play -- not the mark we set at the start of conference action, but still plenty good to make the Big Dance in a year where the Big Ten is almost universally considered the best in college basketball. With another very good win sprinkled in -- at Ohio State, home against Indiana or somewhere in the Big Ten tourney -- a nice NCAA seed is very much within reach.
Funny, then, how everything seemed to be slipping out of their grasp as recently as with less than a minute to play in regulation last night. Minnesota went to the brink a few weeks back against Iowa, needing a late three-pointer from Austin Hollins to escape. This time, they were down 2, Wisconsin had the ball, and there were 22 seconds left. But a huge turnover by former Henry Sibley star Mike Bruesewitz gave the Gophers new life, and Joe Coleman's clutch free throws -- along with Andre Hollins' key overtime three -- brought them back from the brink once again.
Those last 22 seconds of regulation might have done even more than save the season, in the long run. They might have saved Tubby Smith's job. If he and his team can have more moments of pure joy like the one caught on video last night, that will be a very good thing.