This is Amelia Rayno's second season on the Gophers' basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Tonight, the Gophers face Mount St. Mary’s in the fourth game of the regular season.
Milwaukee - Gophers coach Tubby Smith refuted rumors linking him to Auburn's opening following his team's 65-54 loss against Xavier in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"Obviously, that's just talk, because I'm very pleased with what we've accomplished here," Smith said. "I'm pleased with where we are in the program. I'm very ... I'm looking forward to coming back to Minnesota."
Smith also said that he hasn't received any job offers.
"No. No I haven't," he said.
The Friday edition of the Birmingham News said Auburn, which just built a $90 million arena, is willing to make a significant offer to a big-name coach. The newspaper cited Smith as Auburn's potential target.
But a source familiar with the situation strongly denied the cbssports.com report.
Athletic director Joel Maturi told the Star Tribune, "I have heard the [Auburn] rumors."
Maturi, however, also said that he had a gut feeling about the situation: "I think he's our coach."
Here's the thing.
Coaches make moves via agents, search agencies and other liasons.
If Smith leaves, he's not going to request Maturi's blessing. He'll just go.
Maturi said a coach would only call him if/when he's ready to sign with a new school.
That's the way it happened at Georgia. Weeks before he left, Smith praised the Bulldogs' program and talked about the future. Then, he was gone.
That's the way it happened at Kentucky. The administration at that school wanted Smith to make some changes to his program. But I'm told the school's officials were shocked when Smith informed them that he was headed to Minnesota. Where?
If the same thing ever happens at Minnesota, that's the way it will go down, too. Poof. He's gone.
This is the second year in a row that Smith has had to deal with rumors during the NCAA tournament. Last year, reports connected him to the Virginia opening.
Earlier this month, reports linked him to the Oregon opening, before Ernie Kent was even fired.
The difference betweeen those rumors, however, and the latest ones related to the Auburn gig is that past reports only cited Smith as a "target."
This is the first time a report has suggested that Smith is on the verge of signing with another school.
The Gophers are playing Xavier in the NCAA tournament Friday morning.
I picked Xavier but I think the game will be close.
Check out today's Star Tribune and startribune.com for game preview info.
Prediction: Xavier 71, Minnesota 69 ... Last-second shot.
Indianapolis - NCAA tournament speculation is a 24/7 business.
But on Selection Sunday 2010, a bunch of secluded decisionmakers at a downtown Indianapolis hotel will make the final decision.
The Gophers have certainly made a strong case for inclusion during a magical three-game run to the Big Ten tournament title game, the program's first.
The Gophers have outplayed every team in this tournament. So they may not have to worry about an at-large bid.
Ohio State needed a miracle shot that wouldn't have counted if the clock had started on time (check the tape) and double overtime to reach the title game. It's Evan Turner and the Gang. If his teammates show up, they're as good as any team in the country. If his supporting cast struggles, the Buckeyes will have a tough time pulling out the victory.
The Gophers have relied on depth and a very tough defense. Should be a good game.
But I'm not betting against these Gophers.
Prediction: Gophers 75, Ohio State 73 Overtime
Even if the Gophers lose in the conference tourney title game, they still have a good chance to make the Big Dance.
The Gophers will get in because ...
1. They're 7-2 in their last nine games. Fellow bubble teams Illinois (2-6 in its last eight games) and Louisville (5-4 in its last nine games) didn't finish as strong and some bracketologists have them ahead of the Gophers on the bubble.
2. The freshness factor. I know selection committee members talk like they're stuck in a room perusing resumes with the TV turned off. But they're vulnerable to the ESPN effect, too. A number of bubble teams impressed at various points this season but not recently (Illinois and Florida). The Gophers have been on TV all week, reminding observers, including committee members, of the impressive way they've finished the season. They're the iPad of bubble teams right now.
3. Their resume. They're 5-6 against the RPI's top 50. Three of their last seven wins have come against ranked opponents.
4. The weak bubble. Unlike last year, I think teams will get snubbed because they just haven't done enough during the regular season. Illinois, Florida and Seton Hall have all been in the bubble conversation in recent days, even though their resumes aren't that impressive. The Gophers look like one of the best teams in that field.
5. Losing Nolen. A lot of folks in Indianapolis believe Ohio State deserves a No. 1 seed if it wins the Big Title, even though the Buckeyes have seven losses. Their argument, and it's a good one, is that Ohio State would have been even better if Evan Turner had stayed healthy all year. The selection committee will consider the impact that the loss of the Al Nolen had on the Gophers' season. They had to use a shooting guard at point guard. How many teams have gone through what they've gone through and recovered the way they have?
The Gophers won't get in because ...
1. Their inconsistency. A few weeks ago, Dan Guerrero, the selection committee chair, was asked about the value of conference tournaments. His response: they're about "1 percent" of all games played throughout the year. He emphasized the significance of a team's full body of work. The Gophers have all kinds of negative marks throughout their body of work, despite their success in Indy. Plus, they're 3-7 in true road games.
2. Timing. The Big Ten tourney title game will end about 30 minutes before CBS' Selection Sunday show begins. The timing will make it difficult for the selection committee to consider the value, if any, of a good Gophers' performance in a loss. So either they're in right now or they need the auto-bid, in my opinion. The committee won't have time to evaluate today's matchup.
3. Their bad losses. The Gophers have been impressive lately. But losses to Portland, Indiana and Michigan (twice) won't help their cause. They have four sub-100 losses.
4. The eye test. I think this one could go either way for the Gophers. But selection committee members might look at their latest run as an anomaly. They might think this is a mediocre squad, which its regular-season record supports, that got lucky in the conference tourney.
5. Someone has to get snubbed. This isn't a great year for bubble teams. And that's the problem. A number of bubble teams appear to be in the same pot. They've impressed in stretches and struggled for a chunk of the year. This is such a subjective process, so a lot of this will come down to intangibles that only selection committee members understand. The parity doesn't help the Gophers.
Indianapolis - The Conseco Fieldhouse buzz before the Gophers' amazing 72-67 overtime victory against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals Friday night centered on an upset. No one really knew why.
There was just something about the way the Gophers' sacked the Nittany Lions Thursday night and the way Michigan State struggled against them in past games.
The Gophers played a great game in a tough situation. They played with heart.
Key moment for me:
Gophers coach Tubby Smith storms onto the court after a near-scuffle between Colton Iverson and Draymond Green in overtime. He was furious. Looked like he wanted to fight. Had to be restrained.
The 1998 Tubby Smith has returned, folks. The passion, the fire, the intensity and the efficiency.
And he's mixed that with more positivity. When Lawrence Westbrook picked up a late technical for trash-talking with Raymar Morgan, Smith could have pulled him out of the game, scolded him and sat him for the rest of overtime.
But Smith just held up his hands and told Westbrook to stay cool.
Think beating Tom Izzo for the first time since leaving Kentucky meant something to him?
Let's give the players a ton of credit, too.
They've stepped up in pressure situations down the stretch during the Big Ten tournament.
When he took over for Al Nolen, Devoe Joseph struggled. He had to learn a new role and position. But in recent games, he's achieved a new comfort level.
Against Michigan State, he told the Gophers to get on his back. In overtime. Like he wanted to remind everyone that he's the most important member of the Joseph family right now.
Westbrook is Westbrook. For every suspect play, he gives you something that makes you say, "I want that guy on the floor."
I was there. I saw the late turnover. But did you see the defense? Ask Kalin Lucas about it (6-for-17).
Blake Hoffarber shot well early. Think he felt disrespected when they stuck 5-11 Korie Lucious on him. He played like it.
As a team, the Gophers finished. That's been an issue this year. Not so much in the conference tourney.
The Michigan road loss is now an anomaly, no longer a sour reminder of their inconsistency. They've gone 6-2 in their last eight games.
Now comes their greatest test.
They're facing a Boilermakers squad that's essentially playing at home. In their minds, they've been written off, too. They're tired of the "they don't have a chance without Robbie Hummel" talk.
Plus, Conseco Fieldhouse will be packed with Purdue fans.
Saturday's matchup will feel like a true road game for the Gophers.
Under normal circumstances, I would bet against the Gophers. But I can't.
Too much Buster Douglas in them right now.
They're not backing down. They believe they're a tournament team. They'll prove it tonight.
Plus, I know the Boilermakers aren't the same team without Hummel.
Prediction: Minnesota 68, Purdue 65
Gophers need other bubble teams to lose
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi lists the Gophers as the first team out of the NCAA tournament.
A couple of squads threaten to knock the Gophers' chances of earning a coveted at-large berth on Selection Sunday.
Illinois is probably a lock with its win over Wisconsin Friday.
Houston can steal a bid if it beats UTEP, a tourney lock, in the Conference USA final.
Mississippi State is on the bubble. A victory against Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday could lead to an at-large berth.
Miami faces Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals. If the Hurricanes win that tournament, they'll steal another bid.
Rhode Island is a lock, according to Lunardi, but a victory over Temple in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals would remove any doubt.
Washington, another bubble team, beating Cal in the Pac 10 tourney final would give that league two bids.
N.C. State isn't a bubble team but it's in the ACC tournament semis, so it has a shot.
Watch out for New Mexico State against Utah State, a lock to make the NCAA tourney, in the WAC tourney finals. A New Mexico State victory would also give another squad an unexpected at-large berth.
At the same time, if these bubble teams lose Saturday and Sunday, they'll help the Gophers.
Lunardi said the Gophers have to beat Purdue Saturday afternoon to earn "lock status."
What if the Gophers avoid a blow out but still lose to the Boilermakers? Will they get in?
"Not sure....too many other games of impact," Lunardi told me Saturday morning.
Jerry Palm, the founder of collegerpi.com, disagrees.
"To clarify – they have an outside shot with a win today, perhaps, but there is no chance that winning today and losing tomorrow guarantees them anything," he said.
Indianapolis - The Gophers had to come into the Big Ten tournament with a chip.
Make things personal.
Their theme: respect.
They don't think they've earned enough this season.
The Damian Johnson snub. Tubby Smith's coaching ability/style questioned. Criticism following losses to Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan.
Illinois is considered a lock by many after the Wisconsin win Friday, while the Gophers probably need one or two wins to earn the same status. Never mind the similarity between the two teams' resumes.
In reality, respect is earned. And the Gophers haven't been consistent this season, a major obstacle in their mission to earn more street cred.
But if they think they deserve more respect and that translates into another explosive effort against Michigan State, so be it. They needed some kind of theme entering this tournament. And they've found one.
They've never beaten Michigan State under Smith.
I think that will change Friday night.
The Gophers' edge and execution were impressive during their victory over Penn State Thursday.
But their second-half poise, instead of panic, was a difference-maker. Led to a blowout.
They didn't look nervous. They looked determined.
The Spartans don't have Chris Allen. And even when they had him, they struggled against the Gophers in two previous games.
Michigan State is a lock for the NCAA tournament and it doesn't have a shot at a No. 1 seed. So what are they playing for?
We know what's on the line for the Gophers. Another win or two could guarantee an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.
I entered the conference tourney thinking they'd have to win it all to get a berth. Then, bubble teams around the country started to stumble.
The Gophers will be in a good spot with a victory. Another win Saturday night would make them a lock, in my opinion.
That motivation plus their impressive defensive pressure makes me think that they'll pull off the upset and give one of their best efforts of the year.
They're playing like they have something to prove. And they'll earn more than their share of respect if they win.
Prediction: Minnesota 61, Michigan State 58
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