NEW YORK – Richard Pitino loves the Big Apple. He has family here. He won an NIT title here. He recruits here.
But the Gophers men's basketball coach can't hide his frustration about losing a home game to play Ohio State in a hoops-hockey doubleheader Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Pitino thinks it's an unfair situation for his Gophers (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten), who come to New York exhausted physically and emotionally for what will be their third consecutive game away from home in Big Ten play, something that hasn't happened to the program since 2002. And the three games are in a span of six days.
"I don't know what we're trying to accomplish there," Pitino said after Thursday's 77-67 loss at Maryland. "I understand we're trying to get in the Northeast. We could be playing Ohio State in front of 13,000, 14,000 people on Saturday [at Williams Arena]. And instead we got to go to New York City. I love New York City. I love Madison Square Garden, but I just don't get it."
The Big Ten's third annual "Super Saturday" event at MSG includes the Gophers men's hockey team playing a night game vs. Michigan State.
Pitino said he had no influence in decisionmaking when the matchups were announced two years ago.
"They didn't ask me," he said. "I'm 35. I'm the low man in that room. I understand that, and I appreciate that. So I normally keep my mouth shut on those things, but it's not fair. It's just not."
The Gophers left Sunday for State College, Pa., to play Monday night at Penn State. After pulling out a 95-84 overtime victory, they flew to College Park, Md., the next day. They played the Terrapins at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday and flew to New York early Friday morning.
With only one day between games, Pitino said he wouldn't have a full practice. Players will do walkthroughs and watch film to prepare for the No. 22 Buckeyes.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany made it clear in October at the conference's media day in New York that the league was still very committed to getting more East Coast exposure.
The league adjusted teams' early December schedules this season in order to play the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden for the first time. The tournament is being held a week earlier than usual, Feb. 28 to March 4, to accommodate the move.
The conference's inaugural hoops and hockey doubleheader at MSG came in 2016 and included Michigan playing Penn State in both sports. Last year, Wisconsin played Rutgers in hoops and Ohio State in hockey.
The event was sold as a "significant branding opportunity" for the Big Ten in NYC and will continue until next year. The conference compensates schools an undisclosed amount when it loses a home game for Super Saturday.
"It is what it is," Pitino said. "I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for us. I got other problems I've got to figure out along the way."
The Gophers have been without suspended center Reggie Lynch and injured guard Amir Coffey (shoulder) the past five games, in which they are 1-4.
Some starters appear drained physically from having to carry a heavier load. The weeklong road trip hasn't helped. Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer combined for 71 points and played 40-plus minutes in Monday's overtime victory. But Mason went from a 25-point game at Penn State to 14 points on 5-for-16 shooting in 40 minutes Thursday. He also tweaked his hip in the first half.
Still limited in practice by a lower leg injury he has been nursing for a month, McBrayer followed a 24-point performance Monday with just nine points on 3-for-12 shooting against the Terrapins.
Murphy, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds in 33 minutes Thursday, said the Gophers aren't making excuses about not being able to return home to recuperate.
"It's the cards we were dealt," he said. "We've got to roll with the punches. It's not a big deal."