On Selection Sunday, Minnesota’s players and coaches will be dispersed around campus — grabbing dinner, hanging at their apartments or studying perhaps.
One place they won’t be is Williams Arena, to watch the NCAA or NIT tournament fields unfold.
Unlike each of the past three years, the Gophers’ postseason fate — and whether their name will be called at all — is entirely in doubt. After falling to Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota lost any chance of making the NCAA tournament. The NIT might be almost just as unlikely.
“I hope we’re an NIT team,” coach Richard Pitino said after the loss Thursday. “I want to keep playing with these guys, keep coaching them. We enjoyed it last year.
“I get it, you’re labeled in sports today. If you don’t make it to the NCAA tournament, you’re labeled a failure. I mean, I understand that. I don’t look at it like that with these guys.”
The only baseline the NIT requires for its selections is a record of .500 or greater. Minnesota has that but not much more to sell. As of Saturday, the Gophers’ RPI had slipped all the way to 95th nationally, according to realtimerpi.com, and their strength of schedule — after a paper-thin nonconference schedule and a down year in the Big Ten — ranked 59th. Minnesota (18-15 overall, 6-12 Big Ten) doesn’t have any ranked wins on the season to help bolster a bad record, either.
Even if Minnesota got the nod, it remains to be seen how much motivation the defending NIT champions would have for another go.
“I don’t know if you want to be back-to-back NIT champions,” senior guard DeAndre Mathieu said after a loss to Wisconsin on March 5. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
For fellow seniors Andre Hollins, Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason, it would be the third trip to the secondary tournament in four years. Minnesota — which could potentially have 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster next year — could hypothetically use the extension to give the current freshmen more meaningful experience.
But after a season that greatly tripped on expectations, though, the excitement is tempered.
“It’s different for us seniors,” Hollins said before the Big Ten tournament. “It would be very disappointing. But looking ahead, just being competitors, if we go there, we’ll have to make the most of it. We’re still playing basketball which is awesome. You don’t want to leave our careers with a sour taste in our mouths. So it will be good to get some extra games.”