It might sound crazy after what happened last season, but the Gophers men's basketball team has a chance to share the Big Ten regular-season title.
After Saturday's 81-71 win against Penn State, Minnesota (22-7, 10-6) picked up its seventh straight victory to put itself at third place in the Big Ten standings.
Maryland lost its third straight game Saturday against Iowa to fall to 10-6. But the Gophers earn the tiebreaker over the Terrapins, because they defeated the top team in the conference in Purdue.
So what has to happen for Richard Pitino to capture the U’s first Big Ten title officially since 1982?
Basically, Minnesota has to win the last two games to finish 12-6. And Purdue and Wisconsin need to end with that same conference record. That means the Boilermakers (currently 12-4) need to lose the last two games. And the Badgers (11-4) need to lose at least two of the last three.
On Sunday, Michigan State did the Gophers a huge favor by upsetting Wisconsin. Minnesota needs to beat Nebraska on Thursday and Wisconsin in the regular season finale Sunday. Purdue also needs to lose to both Indiana and Northwestern.
If the Gophers want the overall No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, then both Purdue and Wisconsin would have to lose the rest of their games. Michigan State would have to lose to either Illinois Wednesday or Maryland Sunday.
And Minnesota has to win out, of course.
Everybody get that? I know it’s confusing, so Pitino and his players should only worry about what they can control and see how it all plays out with other teams.
Regardless, if Minnesota just wins one of the last two games it would likely be a top-four seed in the conference tournament to receive a double-bye in Washington D.C. That’s the goal right now.
BLOCK PARTY: Gophers center Reggie Lynch was on pace to tie Mychal Thompson’s 41-year-old school and Big Ten record for blocks in a game when he had six at halftime Saturday. His 11 blocks were the second most in team and Big Ten history, surpassing former NBA player Joel Przybilla’s 10 blocks vs. Fresno State in 1998.
Lynch already broke Randy Breuer’s school single-season record in the first half, so it seemed like this was the day when he was going to either reach or shatter the record of 12 blocks in a game.
With about 3 1/2 minutes left, Lynch appeared to block Payton Banks' shot out of bounds. It was very close. That ended up being a deflection, instead of his 10th block.
Lynch then got his 10th block with 1:26 left on a layup attempt by Tony Carr. Plenty of time left to get a couple more, considering he got consecutive blocks on one possession twice in the first half.
But the last block came with 33 seconds remaining – and that was it. Incredible defensive performance, but that was surprising he fell just short of the record.
Something tells me he might just get 12 or more blocks in a game before his career is over.
“Honestly, the zero fouls is more impressive,” Lynch said with a smile. “I know I can get 11 blocks. It’s just whether they want to tally it up.”
Should Lynch be a shoe-in for Big Ten defensive player of the year? Well, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons won the honor last season, leading the conference with 2.6 blocks per game and 84 total. Lynch is leading the Big Ten with 3.4 blocks per game and 95 total.
The Big Ten single-season record is held by former Ohio State center Ken Johnson with 161 in 1999-2000. Lynch could possibly finish in the top-five in conference history with at least four more games.
The Gophers saw another blocks record fall Saturday. They now have the team single-season mark with 202, eclipsing the 200 recorded in 2008-09.
MURPHY MILESTONE: Sophomore Jordan Murphy became the fastest Gopher to reach 500 rebounds in his first two seasons. Murphy had 16 points and 16 rebounds for his 10th double-double this season and fifth in the last six games.
Murphy is averaging 17.2 points, 14 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the last six games. Those are definitely All-Big Ten numbers right there.