Could the bubble burst for Michigan State or Minnesota tonight?

  • Blog Post by: Nadine Babu
  • February 22, 2011 - 10:04 AM

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 - 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 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!    



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