The worst team in 120 years of University of Minnesota men’s basketball, the 2015-16 Gophers, played three non-conference games in a tournament in Puerto Rico, eight in Williams Arena and one in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Gophers forewent the eight-team November tournament in an exotic location for this season, in order to pack the non-conference schedule with more home games.
The regular season now has 31 games and 13 non-conference games: 11 at Williams Arena, another in Sioux Falls and at Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Why is it the Gophers seem to play Florida State 80 per cent of the time in this tired event? The Seminoles are as indifferent to having the Gophers come to Tallahassee as we are having them come to The Barn.
The change in the non-conference schedule means that Gophers’ season-ticket holders were given the privilege of paying for three more full-priced non-conference games. Those ticket holders number a modest 6,239 as of Friday morning.
These thick-skinned loyalists do get Arkansas and St. John’s (1-17 in the Big East last season) as home games, but there also are more yawners to pay for this time, including this murderer’s row of home games from Dec. 6 to Dec. 23:
New Jersey Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern, Northern Illinois, Long Island University-Brooklyn and Arkansas State.
You will notice there’s one ingredient missing from Richard Pitino’s non-conference schedule this winter: No games against teams from South Dakota.
The Gophers went 0-2 in The Barn vs. the Coyotes (South Dakota) and the Jackrabbits (South Dakota State) last season, and Richard doesn’t want to hear the jokes about his rodents being the poor cousins to South Dakota basketball anymore.
Just for giggles, I looked up the 1971-72 non-conference schedule, when Bill Musselman arrived and instantly turned Gophers’ basketball into a major preoccupation for Minnesota’s sporting public.
The Gophers had eight non-conference games: home with Butler, Drake and Loyola, at Iowa State, Bradley and Marquette, and at the Rainbow Classic vs. Temple and TCU.
Butler was the weakling in the group at that time. Drake and Bradley were traditionally strong, and Loyola was eight years removed from winning its national championship.
The preoccupation with Gophers basketball ignited by Musselman finally started to wane in the summer of 1999. That’s when Clem Haskins was sent back to the farm in Kentucky.
The Gophers have been in the NCAA tournament four times and won one game in the 17 years since the academic high jinx took down Clem. It’s difficult to fathom the Gophers could avoid the NCAA so persistently, when most seasons start with tournament bids awaiting at least half of the Big Ten’s now 14 teams.
The Gophers opened this season on Friday night against the Ragin’ Cajuns from Louisiana-Lafayette.
This is a team that the Gophers should play every winter, for nostalgic purposes. There were many college basketball scandals in the early ‘70s, and two of the most notorious were Beryl Shipley’s in Lafayette and Musselman’s here in Minneapolis.
The college in Lafayette was called Southwestern Louisiana at the time, and Shipley did some fabulous recruiting. Dwight Lamar was the superstar of the high-scoring Ragin’ Cajuns, averaging 28.9 points in his final season of 1972-73.
Trouble was, Southwestern Louisiana had been placed on two years of probation in 1968 for recruiting violations. When they got written up again by the NCAA after the 23-5 season of 1972-73, the Ragin’ Cajuns received the death penalty. The program was shut down for two seasons from the fall of 1973 through the spring of 1975.
Southwestern Louisiana was found guilty of more than 120 violations, with many of those allowing a player to use coaches’ or boosters’ cars.
As coincidence would have it, when the NCAA came after Musselman two years later, the number of violations was similar and players’ use of “the green car’’ – from a car dealer in St. Cloud – accounted for a fair share of the violations.
The Gophers received probation, and when Musselman beat feet out of town for the ABA, he took sophomore-to-be Mark Olberding with him.
The combination of probation, the departure of Olberding and the transfer of Mark Landsberger cost the Gophers one glorious event: a national championship.
Oh, don’t argue with me. Mychal Thompson, Olberding and Landsberger up front, Ray Williams, Osborne Lockhart and Flip Saunders in the backcourt; move over Hoosiers, the Gophers win it.
Four decades later, Gopher fans are ready to call it a success if Pitino makes the NIT. In fact, that’s the slogan for Richard’s fourth season: “Let’s Make the Gophers Mediocre Again.’’