...and every sports fan for that matter. To be quite honest, I think every person that has a passion for something, or wants to utilize social media to enhance their business should be on Twitter. The first question I always get when I start talking about Twitter is, "why should I use that?" and the 1st statement usually is "I don’t get Twitter." If you're in that mindset, you're not alone. If you're already a regular Twitter user, you're ahead of the curve, and should probably get a Google+ account, just in case it takes off.
I have more and more friends and colleagues ask me every day what the purpose of Twitter is. For me, it's the fastest possible way to gain and share information. If you're used to Facebook, you need to look at things a different way. With Facebook, you typically put things out there to get comments back, with Twitter, you're getting so much more information, and you're probably not getting as many comments back (at least when you 1st start). It's about engaging people into conversations. Facebook is generally a community for your friends and family to interact with one another, whereas Twitter is a place to disseminate news and information, and facilitate discussion about topics people are passionate about.
The great thing about Twitter is that they're people that have the same interests as you. I have over 1200 friends on Facebook, and I'd say that probably about 15% of them care about the #1 love in my life, Gopher Hoops. Since I am from Wisconsin, and we Sconnies are loyal, I would say that about 50% of them love the Packers…..however, I don’t write about the Packers and where that's a crowd I love to engage, but not as much as Gopher fans. When I look at my Twitter following I'm over 1300 followers, and I'd say about 70% of my followers follow me because of a shared interest in the Gophers. What this means is when you lose the last 10 out of your 11 basketball games, and your wife, husband, friends, and family think you're crazy for being down in the dumps, saying the name talking about recruiting in your sleep, and constantly talking about "next year,” there are hundreds of people I can console, commiserate with, and sometimes argue with that share the same pain.
Beyond building a community, it's the fastest and easiest way to receive information. I say that because you don't have to be at a computer or a TV or radio, you can get an application on your phone and it's as easy to read as a text….and takes less time to load than if you were browsing the internet on your iPhone. The need for fast information is exactly why www.GopherHole.com has gotten so popular. Media members have to verify their facts and write their stories. While that is happening, someone close to the situation can post the rumor on GopherHole, and a lot of the times, it's correct. I remember the day that Glen Mason got fired, I was in Orlando that day and got a call from my work husband at GopherHole that he was gone. All of my friends doubted me because it wasn't up on the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, ESPN, or any news station yet. Sure enough, it had just made it to GopherHole first. Multiply that times 100, and you've got the speed that information travels at on Twitter. With that speed, you also have to have the common sense to sift out information that may not be true. You can't have it all - but it is the best way to get information wherever you are.
Beyond just information that you learn, people give great advice. I've been able to just put a question out there about how to find a bouncy to how to put a highlight reel together, where to find a waterproof sleeve for a kid in a cast, any recipe you could think of, and that's just from typing out 140 characters. I'm sure my Mom is relieved that it's cut down on my calls to her at dinnertime asking about a recipe, because I can get responses for just about any question I ask in minutes. If you build a big enough network, it can become a great resource to you.
Another thing I love about Twitter is the fact that it's very non-intrusive. If you tweet a comment to someone, they can reply directly back to you - it's not like commenting on a Facebook picture where everyone and their grandma comments on how "cute" a baby is, or "congrats" on an engagement. You get the notification only when they reply to you.
I know what you’re thinking – I don’t have time for Twitter. That’s the thing, you can do as much or as little as you want. I have friends that read every single tweet from every person they follow. I am not one of them. I don’t ever “catch up” on tweets, and I think that’s when some people feel overwhelmed and on an information overload. I just read when I’m online or have a few minutes to scroll through on my phone. Once you get Twitter set up it really takes as long to do as writing a text, it will become habit.
So, if you're convinced that Twitter is something you'd like to look into, let me share with you the tips I've learned over the past two years of Tweeting. I think that is one of the biggest frustrations with many that I speak to; they sign up for Twitter and don't know how to use it, so they don't ever log back into it after they create their account.
How do I get started?
Create a Twitter account at www.twitter.com - choose your Twitter handle. I prefer when people use their full names. It gives you more credibility and people will take you more seriously. I also can never remember anyone's cutesy moniker, so if I'm out and about and think of tweeting someone, and it's @Go4ers4lyfe instead of @BobSmith it's much more difficult. Complete your profile too, add a bio so people will know by looking at your profile if they want to follow you, and upload a photo. If you do want to stay anonymous, that's okay too. Just know that people like me will assume you are a 40 year old mouth breather living in your parents' basement—not that there's anything wrong with that ;). You will also have the option of making your profile public or private. I look at Twitter as a public platform, so I recommend making your profile public, but that's just me, I keep my Facebook for only friends to see, and Twitter public. Keep in mind, if it is public, don't tweet anything you wouldn't want your boss or Mom to read.
Should I link it to my Facebook or LinkedIn?
I don't think this is a good idea. Twitter is quick bursts of information, and it has a completely different purpose than Facebook and LinkedIn. In order to really utilize social media, especially if it is for business, is to maximize each platform. For me I keep Facebook more personal, Twitter more sports and current events related, and LinkedIn more professional. You can link them if you decide to do so, through the applications listed below.
Do I need do download any applications?
I would advise you do so. As much as I love Twitter, I find the Twitter for Blackberry and iPhone apps to be horrible, as well as the web version of Twitter.
How do I find people to follow?
You won't get much from it until you start following people. So go through the follow lists of me and other people with similar interests. If you love Gopher Basketball, look up Myron P. Medcalf (@GophersBBGuy) and look at who he follows, and follow the people you are interested it. If you want to start following some of the Gopher Football players, start following MarQueis Gray @goldengopherqb5 and look at the list he follows and interacts with. If you love Gopher Football, follow the official Gopher Football twitter @GoldenGopherFB and who they follow. Once you get a list you like, you won't even pick up a paper (unless it’s the Star Tribune, of course), all the info you're interested in will be in 140 characters, and within seconds of it happening. Many times they will also post the link to the breaking news, so you will be directed to the website for the full article, instead of having to search for it.
How do I actually Tweet?
It's very easy, you can begin a new tweet and post anything that comes to your mind. It can be a current event you just heard about, a comment on the last play of the game, or a question.
•Replying - make sure you always hit the reply button on the tweet you're replying to. That way, they know what comment you're referencing.
•Retweeting - there's a new and old retweet. The "new" one doesn't let you add your comment, this is a good option when it would be too many characters to retweet. I like the original one. So basically, you hit retweet and it will come up like this: RT @NadineBabu today was a good day. So - if you want to add your comment, do it before the RT, or they will not know where the original comment ended. So yours would look like: Yes it is RT @NadineBabu today was a good day.
What is a “#” and when do I use them?
That is a hashtag, and this is a very common question asked about Twitter. Use a hashtag before a keyword that you’re using to make it a topic on Twitter. If you actually click on a hashtagged word, it will show you all the other tweets in that category. For example, I always hashtag #Gophers, making it easy to search for. You can also create permanent searches for hashtags, once again, I have one set up for the Gophers, so at a glance, I can see anyone that tweeted about them. Another way you’ll see hashtags used is when creating a saying like #RememberWhen or #ICan’tLiveWithout. Sometimes these phrases end up trending, and people use them to tweet their experience and use the hashtag at the end. Don’t over use hashtags though, one or two in a tweet is enough. You will notice if you get addicted to Twitter (as I have) that you will start using hashtags in your texts and emails…that’s how you know you’re hooked!
The last piece of advice, TWEET! Yes, you can just stalk on Twitter and watch everyone else converse and have fun, but while you will get a lot of great information, you'll get a whole lot more out of it if you tweet. I have good friends I don’t follow on Twitter because they haven’t sent a tweet in 9 months. With that being said, follow me and engage me in conversations, you can practice on me or ask questions. I'm pretty good at responding to most of my tweets. Consider yourself forewarned, I tweet a LOT. Many unfollow me during gamedays and March Madness because I'm a little out of control!
This past weekend I had the pleasure of making the trip to Houston, Texas to attend my 8th Final Four in the past 11 years. I do feel like every year the Final Four gets better and better, and this year’s trip to Houston continued the trend of every year becoming my new favorite. Jim Nantz had a great quote echoing that sentiment; “It never gets old. What I find is that when somebody asks me about my favorite Final Four I say, ‘the next one.’ You get to where you appreciate it more. It gets bigger and better every year.” I could not agree more with that statement. I know what you’re thinking; that this was the worst National Championship game ever, but when you’re there, it’s so much more than the game itself.
Annual Final Four goers are a rare breed, and female Final Four goers are an even rarer breed that I thought was almost extinct until I met a group of Illinois fans at the 2007 Final Four in Atlanta. There were three Illini grads that we ran into at the Coach’s hotel; they were coach stalking just like we were. We ended up chatting, and to pass their initiation, I had to name the past 10 NCAA National Champions. A strong memory is not one of my strong suits, so I struggled, but managed to do well enough that they knew that I was a true basketball fan and was welcome to hang with them. 4 years later, we’ve kept in touch, met up at a few other Final Fours, and this year, I ended up traveling with them to Houston. That’s one thing that I find as important as the games; meeting other die-hard fans that have traveled all over supporting their teams. Every one of those fans has great stories to go with their travels. For example, we met a KU fan this year at the Hilton that told us the story of how he became “Butler Boy” at last year’s Final Four in Indianapolis. He walked into a bar before the National Championship game that turned out to be a Butler bar. The fans were fairly subdued, so he thought that he’d get them a little fired up, and ended up buying about $500 in shots and drinks for the bar. He was doing cheers with them, and was so excited, he got up on the stainless steel bar to do some chants with everyone. He ended up slipping and falling down to the ground. When he leapt to his feet (think Molly Shannon’s character Mary Katherine Gallagher), the crowd cheered enthusiastically for him, calling him “Butler Boy.”
At the Hilton, a former player approached my Illini friends and told them he was a huge fan as well. I asked if he had played there, and he said he had. My friends still couldn’t place him. He then asked my Illini friends who the school’s all-time leading scorer was. Sure enough, it was Deon Thomas, the only men's basketball player in Illinois history to score at least 2000 career points. He is now coaching at Lewis and Clark Community College, and couldn’t have been a nicer guy.
I know people always question my “coach stalking” as a hobby. The reason why I love to meet coaches is because they share the same love and passion for college basketball that I do. They are experts at their game, and I’m like a kid in a candy store just listening to their stories and soaking it all up.
A few other highlights from coaches we met, but let me preface this all by saying these were just meetings and I don’t claim to be "close personal friends" with any of them.
Gregg Nibert, Presbyterian College – Coach Nibert ended up sitting next to us at lunch, and it was such a pleasure to talk to the coach of the smallest Division One program, who has been with the program for 22 years. We chatted about how a lot of coaches are passing up big time jobs with big time money and big time pressure to stay at smaller schools. I’m pretty sure just about any coach there would love to have the longevity that Coach Nibert has. He recruits good kids that want an education and get fired up at the opportunity to play schools like Mizzou, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Wake Forest, and Kansas State like Presbyterian College did last season.
Gene Keady – This is one of my favorite coaches to speak to. I first met him a few years ago in San Antonio. I made fun of West Lafayette, and he was a good sport about it, as he really loves living there. I got a photo with him where I did not look very good, and as we were walking away, I saw noticed it wasn’t the best picture. I asked for another. He laughed and made fun of me, saying to my male friend “how do you put up with your wife, she is very demanding?” I thought that was hilarious. I asked him for a better picture this year, and he said “If you get a good shot with me, then you won’t have any reason to come up and talk to me in the future.” I assured him I would always come up to him, and if it ended up being a keeper, he’d made my Christmas card.
Steve Fisher, SDSU – it was truly an honor to meet Coach Fisher the night that he won Coach of the Year. My friend actually approached him because one of his friends played for Coach Fisher, and he could not have been any nicer or more gracious. I was in awe meeting someone that has won a National Championship at Michigan, recruited and coached the Fab 5, and has had a long and successful career at SDSU, only losing 2 games this past season.
Bill Self, Kansas – I don’t think it’s really a secret that I absolutely worship Bill Self. I have never met a more charming man in my life, and that’s why we seek him out every year to say “hello.” The 1st time I met him was in 2007 in Atlanta. He was by himself at the Coaches’ hotel, and in street clothes. He looked very different than he does in a suit. I went up to him and asked “excuse me, are you Bill Self?” He responded, “No, I’m Bob Stoops.” I think that’s one of the things that make him so likable; He’s an elite coach at one of the best basketball programs in the nation, and he just acts like a regular guy from the Midwest. He loves my Illini friends, and has known them since he coached there. When he saw them walking up, he immediately smiled and said “My Illini girls!” He makes a point of always saying how much he loved coaching there.
Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh – When we approached Coach Dixon to introduce ourselves, he had already seen us talking to Coach Self, and said “so, you all know Bill,” and was very welcoming. We were actually very impressed with Dixon, he liked my friend’s T-shirt that said “You know you’re a redneck….if you Fired Tubby Smith.” He was kind enough to take this photo with us:
We also ran into Gary Williams, Scott Van Pelt from ESPN, Ralph Sampson Jr., John Thompson, Tubby Smith, Mark Few, and many other influential individuals in the world of college basketball. For me, the Final Four is my Disneyland, it’s the happiest place on earth. Regardless of the games, it’s always an amazing experience and something new each and every year. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Final Four, I would highly recommend it, you won’t regret it!
March Madness is my favorite holiday. I love it all; the blood, sweat and tears, along with the crushed dreams, elation, good and bad calls and celebrations. There’s even more to love this year because CBS finally wised up and partnered with TBS, TNT and TruTV to broadcast every minute of every game. My only regret is that work prohibited me from watching as much as I had in years past, but I think I got a solid 36 hours or so of games in. I’m pretty sure this isn’t feasible, but I do think the Government should issue national holidays for the first Thursday and Friday of March Madness. Now that would be a political cause worth picketing for.
It took me a solid 2-3 days to get over the fact that the Gophers would not be continuing in the post-season. After I got over that bout of depression, I looked forward to the games ahead. In this 1st weekend, just 4 days in, there were examples of just about everything I love about March Madness:
It doesn’t matter how you’ve done all season, who you beat, or what seed you are. All that matters is that you are the better team on that given day. You could have a match-up where your opponent would beat you 9 out of 10 times, but if you just have the heart, passion, and execution to play your best game for 40 minutes of regulation, and you will advance. I’m guessing many would say that 4th seeded Louisville is a better team than 13th seeded Morehead State on most days. However, on Thursday during the 1st round of the tournament, Morehead State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament, and sent Coach Rick Pitino to the announcer’s desk for the rest of the tournament.
I think CBS played the Butler celebration in the locker room about 100 times. They could play it 100 more and I would never get sick of it. I hesitate to call Butler the Cinderella team, because that’s what they were last year. They proved themselves to the world that they were the small school that could take on any powerhouse school. This year, it looks like they are determined to repeat that. This is a school that isn’t known for their 5 star recruits, but they play as a team, and have overachieved beyond what anyone could have expected. In the Sweet 16 they will face Wisconsin, and they are so adored by fans that I had a Badger fan actually text me and say she would have a tough time rooting for her alma mater, because they are so likable. I admit, that’s not the entire story—she also said it was because Brad Stevens is so dreamy…and I can’t disagree with that.
Yes, this is a shot at the Big East. 11 teams made it in, only 2 teams made it to the Sweet 16. There are actually more double digit seeds that made it to the Sweet 16 (4 – Richmond, VCU, Marquette, and Florida State) than Big East teams. On the flip side, I need to give credit to the ACC where it’s due. Coming into the tournament, they were looked at as only the 5th best conference in the nation, and many were down on the ACC as a whole this year. Three out of their 4 bids made it to the Sweet 16: Duke, UNC and Florida State, with only Clemson not advancing.
I’ve been to the 1st and 2nd rounds, regionals, and 7 Final Fours (and am excited about my 8th one in Houston in 2 weeks). I have to tell you, at every level, these are affordable events that fans can easily attend on a moderate budget. I looked at attending the SuperBowl when my Packers made it there this year. The face on even the cheapest ticket is over $700, so figured paying $2000-$3000 from a scalper, then airfare would be another grand, add on hotel, food, drinks, parking, etc, and you’re at a trip that costs you at least $5000, if not more. Last year we were very lucky to have the Gophers play in Milwaukee for the 1st round game, so we paid minimal gas money to drive there, $60 for a hotel on Priceline for a room at the Hilton where the Gophers stayed, and $100 for 6th row tickets. Even including drinks and food, this trip was under $300. For the Final Four, tickets to Houston were $200, tickets to both the Final Four and the National Championship game will be around $300, and we are lucky enough to have a friend’s place to stay at. Even if were to stay at a hotel, the trip would be an affordable trip that many fans can afford if they choose to spend their money that way. I’m not saying everyone can make these trips, but it’s certainly not as spendy or as difficult to do as other sporting events. I think that’s why I love traveling to these games so much; you meet great fans that are just regular people who love their teams. Some are college kids that piled into a van, others are alums that are able to go out all and get the nice hotel, rental cars, and great seats.
I don’t think there’s any sporting event that can cause such elation, or have the ability to absolutely crush so many athletes in the span of a few weeks. I don’t care what anyone says, these kids care so much, and they leave every bit of themselves on the court. Look at Jacob Pullen from Kansas State: he had a career high 38 points against Wisconsin, more points than any one player had ever scored on them in the tournament’s history. Instead of reflecting on his great personal performance, he was absolutely crushed by the loss. I don’t know anyone who could watch this video and not have their heart break for a kid that would give anything to be playing next weekend:
It’s not just the players, it’s the coaches too. Princeton’s Sydney Johnson was too choked up in his press conference to answer questions. Keep in mind, Princeton was a #13 seed, playing a #4 Kentucky team. They took Kentucky to the wire and lost to them by only two points. It’s not as if they were expected to win, they could have walked away and simply been proud of how well they performed, but they wanted the “W” so badly.
This video says it all. I find that “One Shining Moment” is the happiest and saddest moment for me during the college basketball season. It’s sad because I know it’s over and will have to wait until October to get my hoops fix, but it’s also the happiest because it’s the compilation of all the ups and downs in the tournament. In just a few minutes, the entire tournament flashes all of the amazing memories that were created, including highlights the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows. At the Final Four we always move down from our nosebleed seats to watch this video, and just like the tournament it depicts, it brings every emotion out of me. It helps remind me of the immense appreciation I have for March Madness and how sacred college basketball is to me.
I never even thought it was a realistic possibility that a Tubby Smith coached Gopher basketball team would fail to even make the NIT…especially after being ranked for the majority of the season as high as #15 in the nation. I guess that’s to be expected when you lose your last 10 out of 11 games. For the diehard fans like myself, I have to be honest, it was brutal watching this team absolutely collapse. For me, this was even rougher than the 2006-07 season when Coach Dan Monson “resigned” midway through the season. At least with that year, you were prepared for a rough season with a horrible start losing all three of the Old Spice Classic tournament games, but this year none of us were prepared for what would happen.
Instead of reflecting on everything that went wrong, I’d rather move forward and weigh out possible options for the Gophers:
Fire Tubby Smith – this seems to be quite a popular solution. Many think that he’s overrated, overpaid, and underachieving. As emotional of a fan as I am, I also know you have to look at the big picture – and a coach’s body of work. Has Tubby Smith met the expectations most have had for him at Minnesota? No. But has any coach really done well here without cheating? Not really. I’m not one of those people that say it’s impossible to win at Minnesota, quite the contrary – I don’t understand why we don’t win more at Minnesota. We are top notch academically, have the advantages of a great city, The Barn is one of the most electric places to play in the nation (well, it used to be when it was loud), and we have a well-known coach.
One of the posters from GopherHole .com actually compiled an extensive list of all of the coaches that were hired when Tubby was hired and how they have fared:
Since this was posted in February, things have obviously changed for the Gophers. Personally, I think Tom Izzo is the best coach of the past decade, and would also argue that he is one of the top 5 coaches in the nation. When you see someone like him struggle this past year, it’s obvious that you do need to look at a coach’s accomplishments, not just one season.
Change up the coaching staff – this is something I am in favor of and I’m not the only one:
When you look at excellent leaders, they surround themselves with people that compliment them and help minimize their weaknesses. Tubby’s weakness is clearly scoring and running an effective offense. I don’t know the in’s and out’s of his staff, and what exactly each role everyone plays is, but it’s clear that offense does not seem to be a specialty of anyone’s.
Recruit better - All of the Kentucky fans had constantly said that Tubby was a lazy recruiter. While I haven’t seen any evidence of that, I do know that we have to either get some better talent or coach them so we get the best out of our players. When you look at our team, Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen were two of our best players and were Dan Monson recruits. Aside from Trevor Mbakwe, Monson’s players like these two, as well as Damian Johnson and Lawrence Westbrook were the players to shine the most under Tubby’s regime.
Develop our big men – I could not have been more excited when Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson signed with the University of Minnesota. After not having a really effective center since Jeff Hagen, I thought they were the answers to our prayers. While they have both had some decent games, I have seen very little development with the two of them. Iverson seems to have issues scoring points, and Sampson seems to be blessed with talent but doesn’t have the fire in his belly to really use it. One of my seatmates actually joked that when rebounding, his mentality is “Trevor will get it.” I honestly think if we can get the most out of these two, and Mbakwe returns next year, we can be absolutely unstoppable in the paint.
These are just a few of my ideas. Agree or disagree, but I think the one thing we all agree on is that some changes need to be made. I thought that not winning an NCAA game in Tubby’s tenure was underachieving…but not even making the NIT? That is just not acceptable.
Today’s match-up at 8pm at Williams Arena is the showdown of the bubble teams that shouldn’t have been. Michigan State was ranked #2 in the Coaches’ Poll coming into the 2010-11 basketball season. After going to the Final Four last year they had their eye set on the grand prize—the national championship. Anything less would be unacceptable. Now, with only four regular season games to go, they sit on the bubble, fighting their way into the NCAA tournament. The Gophers go into this game with hopes of dancing as well. We began our season with very high hopes: We had one of the biggest line-ups in the nation, the return of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen, a talented incoming freshman class, and only the loss of two seniors. I had hoped that on Selection Sunday we would anxiously await our seed, not being in a position of hoping we’d make it. This season seems to be a repeat of last season – The Season that Could Have Been Part 2…just with less drama. It seems ironic that the first time we dropped out of the Top 25 was a little over a week ago, and even when ranked 25th, many still considered us to be a bubble team. So, what happened? How does a team that goes from beating teams like UNC and West Virginia in the Puerto Rico tournament, jumps up to #15 in the rankings, beats an 8th ranked Purdue team end up in mid-February as a bubble team? I remember watching our team in the non-conference thinking that we had one of the biggest line-ups in the country, and enjoyed depth at every position. Turns out, we weren’t that deep. We were three personnel changes away from struggling, and losing to 3-10 Indiana. It was a shame when Mo Walker went down and incurred a season ending injury just when he really started making an impact and breaking out, helping to solidify our big lineup. Following that, Devoe Joseph transferred to Oregon, leaving us without a backup point guard and a reliable shooting guard. I believe we could have persevered through all of those issues, but then our point guard, Al Nolen, broke his foot. I know many of you laughed at me when I wrote about how irreplaceable Al Nolen was a few months ago http://www.startribune.com/yourvoices/107017468.html - but let’s face it, we are a Top 25 team with Nolen, and without him, we may be an NIT team. Nolen brings so much more to the game that what his point total is; he makes the rest of the team better. He runs the offense so we create better shots, he frees up Blake Hoffarber so he can gets open looks from the perimeter, and he can get the ball inside to our big men who have been underutilized in the majority of the games. Where does that leave us? Is this game a “must win” for either team? I would say it is if there were no Big 10 Tournament, but as we saw from last year, the Gophers won their way in that weekend. There’s really no bubble buster until that weekend. Is there a lot on the line tonight? Absolutely. I would think whichever team wins tonight will most likely get in on their own merit, regardless of the Big 10 tournament, barring any foolish losses in the following three games. The Gophers are lucky, after starting out the Big 10 season with a very tough schedule, the last three games are very winnable, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State. Worst case scenario, even if we lost against Michigan State, those three wins (not easy, but winnable) would put us at 20 wins for the season, which was previously the magic number. I don’t think that would be enough to get us into the Dance, but if we had another 2 wins or so in the Big Ten Tournament, we’d clinch a spot. These are all big “ifs” and it looks like a big “if” when looking at Al Nolen’s return http://boards.gopherhole.com/boards/showthread.php?t=27713&highlight=nolen as well. The bottom line is, the Gophers have to do everything in their power to win this game, and the fans will need to get fired up and be the 6th man—we’ve got a lot on the line tonight!
Today’s match-up at 8pm at Williams Arena is the showdown of the bubble teams that shouldn’t have been. Michigan State was ranked #2 in the Coaches’ Poll coming into the 2010-11 basketball season. After going to the Final Four last year they had their eye set on the grand prize—the national championship. Anything less would be unacceptable. Now, with only four regular season games to go, they sit on the bubble, fighting their way into the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers go into this game with hopes of dancing as well. We began our season with very high hopes: We had one of the biggest line-ups in the nation, the return of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen, a talented incoming freshman class, and only the loss of two seniors. I had hoped that on Selection Sunday we would anxiously await our seed, not being in a position of hoping we’d make it. This season seems to be a repeat of last season – The Season that Could Have Been Part 2…just with less drama. It seems ironic that the first time we dropped out of the Top 25 was a little over a week ago, and even when ranked 25th, many still considered us to be a bubble team.
So, what happened? How does a team that goes from beating teams like UNC and West Virginia in the Puerto Rico tournament, jumps up to #15 in the rankings, beats an 8th ranked Purdue team end up in mid-February as a bubble team?
I remember watching our team in the non-conference thinking that we had one of the biggest line-ups in the country, and enjoyed depth at every position. Turns out, we weren’t that deep. We were three personnel changes away from struggling, and losing to 3-10 Indiana. It was a shame when Mo Walker went down and incurred a season ending injury just when he really started making an impact and breaking out, helping to solidify our big lineup. Following that, Devoe Joseph transferred to Oregon, leaving us without a backup point guard and a reliable shooting guard. I believe we could have persevered through all of those issues, but then our point guard, Al Nolen, broke his foot. I know many of you laughed at me when I wrote about how irreplaceable Al Nolen was a few months ago http://www.startribune.com/yourvoices/107017468.html - but let’s face it, we are a Top 25 team with Nolen, and without him, we may be an NIT team. Nolen brings so much more to the game that what his point total is; he makes the rest of the team better. He runs the offense so we create better shots, he frees up Blake Hoffarber so he can gets open looks from the perimeter, and he can get the ball inside to our big men who have been underutilized in the majority of the games.
Where does that leave us? Is this game a “must win” for either team? I would say it is if there were no Big 10 Tournament, but as we saw from last year, the Gophers won their way in that weekend. There’s really no bubble buster until that weekend. Is there a lot on the line tonight? Absolutely. I would think whichever team wins tonight will most likely get in on their own merit, regardless of the Big 10 tournament, barring any foolish losses in the following three games. The Gophers are lucky, after starting out the Big 10 season with a very tough schedule, the last three games are very winnable, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State. Worst case scenario, even if we lost against Michigan State, those three wins (not easy, but winnable) would put us at 20 wins for the season, which was previously the magic number. I don’t think that would be enough to get us into the Dance, but if we had another 2 wins or so in the Big Ten Tournament, we’d clinch a spot. These are all big “ifs” and it looks like a big “if” when looking at Al Nolen’s return http://boards.gopherhole.com/boards/showthread.php?t=27713&highlight=nolen as well. The bottom line is, the Gophers have to do everything in their power to win this game, and the fans will need to get fired up and be the 6th man—we’ve got a lot on the line tonight!