Read my full game story on 11-seed Minnesota's 79-73 loss to 6-seed Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament here.
Three quick observations at the end of another season:
More games to play? Who knows. I had a lot of back and forth with the media that has watched this team all year about whether Minnesota has actually done enough for an NIT bid. The numbers -- RPI of 89; SOS of 65; no ranked wins -- aren't pretty, but the Gophers have done well in the NIT in the past and have put up good viewership numbers. If the committee values that, Minnesota could get the nod. Coach Richard Pitino caused us all to sigh in relief when he confirmed tonight that he is "99 percent sure" that he would decline an invitation to either the CBI or the CIT.
Something to look forward to. In crippling foul trouble tonight, the Gophers weren't necessarily crippled. Pitino had to scrap together a frontcourt and play Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou together for extended minutes, and still Minnesota hung with Ohio State, at least defensively, in those stretches. Pitino pointed out that the Gophers could have taken a good lead if Mo Walker had been able to play more early, but the fact that they weren't getting crushed with that lineup, in my opinion, is something of a positive. And Nate Mason -- while held scoreless in the second half -- showed more sparks of the aggressive player that could have big impact next year with a summer of improvement. Silver linings here for a future that looks raw but promising.
Farewell seniors. When I took this beat, Andre Hollins was a wide-eyed freshman, looking ahead to a career that would memories of dominance from the perimeter along with nights of offensive silence and put him in the record books for scoring totals. I remember when I first met him at media day of 2011, and that huge toothy grin that he wore then and almost always when we saw him throughout these four years, although less in the last week. Mo Walker seems, now, like a different person that the standoffish spot post player I met when I came. Now, the confidence come through in the way he talks, in the way he screams and fist pumps after big plays, in the way he dresses, ever stylish since losing those 75 pounds. Elliott Eliason didn't finish how we thought. Tonight, he was the only senior not to be brought to the podium and in the locker room, he got out of his chair to allow the media to surround Walker. But although many of his final days came on the bench, Eliason's passion always shown through. He was always one of the most honest and certainly the most self-criticizing players on every team. DeAndre Mathieu, I never will forget, even though I only watched him for two years. These last two games, he's gotten back to the aggressive, attacking-the-basket player we came to know when he joined Minnesota last year. That player never failed to intrigue. But the person underneath -- the loving father, the burdened best friend of the late Tookie, the unapologetically giddy, blunt, raw personality that made us laugh and nearly made us cry was what I'll really remember.
I wish them all the best in what the future holds.