CANNON FALLS, MINN. – The Gophers men’s basketball team will play what amounts to a 2019 Final Four warmup game for U.S. Bank Stadium in December, but the opponent will be quite real: Oklahoma State.
A source told the Star Tribune on Monday that Oklahoma State will soon be announced as the Gophers’ opponent in the Vikings’ stadium.
“The Final Four is here this year ... you don’t have to remind me you’d like to see the Gophers in the Final Four — I know that,” coach Richard Pitino joked Monday morning. “To have that happen in Minneapolis would be awesome.”
Pitino was speaking at Cannon River Winery, the first stop of the 2018 Gophers Road Trip, the annual coaches tour to various parts of the state. Pitino told fans how excited he was to have returning players such as Jordan Murphy and Isaiah Washington, and said the same about Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry. Those three are recovering from injuries, and Pitino said he needs them healthy after a depleted lineup led to a 15-17 campaign last season.
“I always try to be very, very truthful with the fans,” Pitino said. “So much was out of our control [last season]. We’re kind of looking forward to putting it to bed and moving on. I am excited about where we’re going.”
Oklahoma State should be a good early test. The Cowboys are a perennial Big 12 contender, winning 20 or more games seven times in the past 10 seasons, including a 21-15 record in 2017-18 under first-year coach Mike Boynton Jr. The Cowboys beat the Gophers in 2016 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and have been to the NCAA tournament in four of the past six seasons.
The Gophers are expected to return the favor by playing a game against Oklahoma State in Tulsa for the 2019-2020 season, according to the Tulsa World.
Pitino talked about having one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the Big Ten next season. The Gophers will play Texas A&M and either Washington or Santa Clara at the Vancouver Showcase in mid-November. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchups haven’t been announced yet, but the game will be on the road for the Gophers.
Pitino did not tell Monday’s crowd who the U.S. Bank Stadium opponent for the Gophers will be in December, but he said the event “will be a cool experience for everybody.”
NCAA officials will attend the Gophers-Cowboys game at U.S. Bank Stadium to monitor how basketball fits into the home of Super Bowl LII. Kate Mortenson, president and CEO of the 2019 Final Four local organizing committee, said last spring that everyone will be aiming to make the Gophers game there an event unto itself, in addition to a warmup game.
The Final Four will be April 6-8, 2019. A date for Gophers-Oklahoma State is not yet set.
Pitino hopes Kyle Lindsted will be helping him coach that game. The Gophers coach confirmed Monday he was working on hiring Wichita State’s Lindsted to fill his third assistant coaching position this week. Lindsted, whose departure from Wichita State was reported Sunday, had been on the Shockers staff under Gregg Marshall for the past three seasons.
“He’s one of the best recruiters in the country,” Pitino said Monday. “Very, very passionate about it. I’m excited to complete [the staff].”