The University of Minnesota men's basketball team has added a pair of home matchups with major-conference teams to its schedule for the 2016-17 season.
The Gophers will play host St. John’s in the second season of the Gavitt Tipoff games, an annual series to be played between Big Ten and Big East schools. A source also confirmed to the Star Tribune on Tuesday that Minnesota will play a home-and-home series with Arkansas starting next season.
That series will begin at Williams Arena this winter. A return game will be held in Fayetteville, Ark. the following year. CBS Sports reporter Jon Rothstein first reported the news of the Arkansas matchup on Monday.
The matchup with St. John's – which Minnesota last played in 2014 in a victory at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tip-off – will also be in Minneapolis on Friday, Nov. 18, according to a university release. The game marks the Gophers’ first appearance in the Gavitt Games, which debuted last season. Only eight games are played between the conferences each year meaning that not all Big Ten and Big East teams participate in a given season.
“This is a great matchup for our team and will be an exciting game at the Barn in November,” coach Richard Pitino said in the release. “St. John’s is one of the most storied programs in the Big East and after playing them two years ago in New York, we look forward to the challenges of hosting them this season.”
Pitino said earlier this offseason that the team was finalizing a home-and-home series with a power-conference team that he believed would entice fans along with the previously unannounced Big East matchup.
“You’re looking at potentially two non-conference opponents at home that I know would get people excited at the Barn,” he told media last month. “We’re still kind of looking and adding a couple things as well. Scheduling is something I think everyone tries to figure out… there are so many components that go into it. But we want our guys ready for the Big Ten obviously.”
St. John’s is coming off an even worse season than Minnesota in coach Chris Mullin's first year at the helm. The Red Storm finished with the same number of wins (8) and one more loss (24) than the Gophers while enduring a 16-game losing streak and a stretch of 21 losses in the final 22 games, a slide that spanned from mid-December to March. Although St. John’s is expected to improve somewhat next season, the team will be quite young and not yet in position to benefit from a pair of highly regarded transfers – Justin Simon (Arizona) and Marvin Clark (Michigan State) who won’t be eligible until the fall of 2017.
Arkansas, meanwhile, went 16-16 last year, with an opening-round loss in the SEC conference tournament standing as the Razorbacks’ only post season. It was the fourth time in coach Mike Anderson’s five seasons that the team has failed to make the NCAA tournament. A five-man recruiting class that includes one four-star and three three-star prospects should help, particularly in the backcourt and on the wing. Arkansas last saw Minnesota in the Maui Invitation in Pitino’s first season with the Gophers. The Razorbacks won 87-73.