Scoggins: Resurgent Gophers provide the perfect Williams Arena renovation

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2013 - 9:48 AM

When the team's bad, the Barn creaks; when they're good, it rocks.

The Gophers play the No. 5 team in the country, Michigan, at home on Thursday night. At roughly the same time only a few miles away, the Timberwolves play one of the NBA's best teams, the Los Angeles Clippers.

In terms of rooting interest among Twin Cities hoops fans, there's no comparison in choosing between those two viewing options. The Gophers own the winter months when the basketball team is good and the Barn comes alive. That just hasn't happened in a long time.

The sports landscape around here lately has resembled a frozen abyss once Vikings season concludes, a cold, dark interlude until we turn our attention to spring training and the NFL draft.

The Gophers are starting to breathe life into a bland basketball scene. Their fast start, top-10 national ranking and unselfish style of play have captured fan interest and turned Williams Arena into a destination once again. Thursday's clash with Michigan represents a scalper's delight and a chance for the Barn to reveal its soul after years of dormancy.

The Gophers have an opportunity to claim center stage in a season that began with more intrigue focused on the Target Center tenants. That's not necessarily a knock on the Wolves, though. They positioned themselves to return to relevance when they removed some dead weight and assembled a more professional outfit this season. But knuckle pushups and an assortment of injuries have turned their promising season into a real buzzkill.

Talk to long-time followers of Twin Cities sports and they contend that a relevant Gophers basketball team ranks third in popularity, behind only the Vikings and Twins. The old guard wax poetic about spending snowy Saturday afternoons inside the Barn when the building shook and their heads pounded because of the intense noise. They recall stories -- or an old wives' tale? -- about a frustrated fire marshal turning a blind eye to the turnstile count as bodies crammed inside to supply a suffocating home-court advantage. The anticipation of a big game at the Barn made the wait insufferably long.

The romanticism gained a foothold under Bill Musselman in the early 1970s and picked up a new generation as Clem Haskins built a Final Four program. But those warm memories became just that as an academic scandal and substandard product knocked the program into irrelevancy. As a result, the Barn began to show its warts.

Having migrated here in 2000, the mysticism surrounding the old arena and raised court escaped me. Frankly, I didn't understand the love affair and questioned the effect Williams Arena had in recruiting because young kids like shiny new things. They appreciate bling more than tradition.

The Barn truly is a unique venue that requires effort and patience. Parking is terrible, amenities limited and seating is tighter than on a puddle jumper. If you haven't experienced the Barn at his zenith, it's hard to accept its charm and benefits.

That's been the case the past decade or so. Unable to sustain any real stretch of success, the Gophers nestled into a slumber as pockets of empty seats dotted their home. Gameday hardly resembled that boiling pot of emotion that old-timers remember with reverence.

But the old Barn finally felt alive again during this season's Big Ten opener against Michigan State on New Year's Eve. The place had electricity and atmosphere. Fans went bonkers as the Gophers raced away from the gritty Spartans with a late-game flourish.

Suddenly, the Barn made sense. If the product is good, the building's age is only a number. Sure, it still could use some modernization -- not to mention a practice facility -- but the home-court advantage it provides is undeniable when the place is rocking.

Tubby Smith's team is equipped to provide more of those moments. Beyond their obvious talent, the Gophers compete hard, play together, embrace their defensive responsibilities and genuinely don't care who scores the most points in any particular game. That's a formula for success. Now they just have to show it over the course of an entire Big Ten season.

The Gophers can make a statement Thursday night and prove they are deserving of their No. 9 ranking and all the praise being heaped upon them. They can prove that they indeed are real contenders and serious about their March plans.

This is an important game for them. A Big Ten opponent and top-five team coming into the Barn in the dead of winter.

It must feel like old times.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 4
Houston - WP: T. Sipp 5 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Allen 1
San Francisco - WP: T. Hudson 10 FINAL
Washington - LP: D. Fister 3
St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 5
Chicago WSox - LP: D. Webb 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson 4
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 8 FINAL
Toronto - LP: M. Stroman 0
Atlanta 1 Bottom 11th Inning
Cincinnati 1
Seattle - WP: D. Leone 5 FINAL
Boston - LP: K. Uehara 3
Kansas City 5 Bottom 8th Inning
Texas 3
Pittsburgh 8 Bottom 8th Inning
Milwaukee 2
Detroit 5 Bottom 6th Inning
Minnesota 7
Miami 6 Top 7th Inning
Colorado 4
San Diego 0 Top 5th Inning
Arizona 4
LA Angels 1 Bottom 3rd Inning
Oakland 1
NY Mets 1 Top 4th Inning
Los Angeles 1
Carolina 7 FINAL
New England 30
NY Giants 35 4th Qtr 0:33
NY Jets 24
Jacksonville 12 FINAL
Detroit 13
Oakland 7 4th Qtr 10:44
Green Bay 31
Chicago 0 2nd Qtr 12:01
Seattle 14
Tampa Bay 8/23/14 3:30 PM
Buffalo
Tennessee 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Atlanta
Dallas 8/23/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Washington 8/23/14 6:30 PM
Baltimore
New Orleans 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Indianapolis
Minnesota 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Kansas City
St. Louis 8/23/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Houston 8/23/14 8:00 PM
Denver
San Diego 8/24/14 3:00 PM
San Francisco
Cincinnati 8/24/14 7:00 PM
Arizona
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:00 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
UCF 8/30/14 7:30 AM
Penn State
Real Salt Lake 0 2nd Half 25:00
FC Dallas 1
Montreal 13 13:00
Winnipeg 11
Toronto 8/23/14 3:00 PM
Edmonton
Calgary 8/24/14 2:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8/24/14 6:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 2:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Chicago 80 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Los Angeles 34 3rd Qtr
Phoenix 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which football team will have the best record in 2014?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close