Hartman: Tough schedule hurts Gophers' record, helps ranking

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 8, 2013 - 7:12 AM

The nation's third-toughest schedule enhances both the Gophers' RPI rating and their tournament chances.

If you are looking for something positive about a Gophers basketball team that is 2-5 since starting the season 15-1, you should check two important numbers that play a big part in teams getting an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranks the Gophers 11th in the nation, with No. 4 Michigan and No. 10 Indiana the only Big Ten teams ahead of them, despite the Gophers' 5-5 record in conference play.

And then you check the RPI strength of schedule and see that the Gophers are third nationally behind Duke and Miami (Fla.), having played 12 teams that rank in the RPI's top 100. That helps explain why they are ranked just behind Indiana, which is No. 1 in the Associated Press and coaches' polls.

So even though the Gophers have lost five of their past seven conference games, they are almost a cinch to get Tubby Smith's third NCAA tournament invitation as Gophers coach and first since 2010.

If the Maroon and Gold could go 5-3 the rest of the way -- assuming they beat Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State at home, lose to Indiana at home and Iowa and Ohio State on the road and defeat Nebraska and Purdue on the road -- they would be 10-8 going into the Big Ten tournament.

Still, the overall record is not as good as people expected of a team that at one point was 15-1 overall, 3-0 in the conference and ranked No. 8 in the country.

A big reason the Gophers have failed to live up to expectations is because they have the Big Ten's worst assist-to-turnover ratio at minus-2.3 per game.

Shooting struggles

Another big issue for the Gophers, along with turnovers, has been their shooting struggles of late.

Through their first 16 games the Gophers were averaging 76 points. In their past seven games they have averaged only 63.4.

During their 2-5 slump, the Gophers have outshot their opponent from the field in just one contest, the 62-59 victory over Iowa on Sunday, in which the Gophers shot 44.9 percent compared to the Hawkeyes' 36.2 percent. But that's the anomaly. Overall during their past seven games, the Gophers have gone 160-for-375 from the field (42.7 percent) while their opponents have shot 154-for-338 (45.6 percent).

It's hard to understand because overall the Gophers have been a good shooting team, currently ranking 56th in the country from the field at 45.9 percent.

If there was a year for the Gophers and Smith to go far in the NCAA, this is it. With the graduation of seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the team certainly will lose strength in scoring and rebounding, and none of the current reserves nor incoming recruits Alex Foster and Alvin Ellis are going to fill that void.

Target Center upgrades

One of the reasons NBA Commissioner David Stern came to town this week was to meet with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson to try to get action on the "project scope" of Target Center's remodeling. Under that plan, Timberwolves ownership, AEG (the firm that operates the arena), occupant Life Time Fitness and the city are supposed to come up with the $100 million needed to remodel Target Center.

Well, the word is that the city has agreed to contribute $50 million, and the other three parties will write checks to cover the other $50 million.

However, there is one problem. The city wants the Timberwolves to extend their lease, which now ends in 2025, for 10 years and the Timberwolves want to extend it for only five years.

Once that issue is resolved, look for work to start on Target Center in the near future.

Jottings

• The word is that problems surrounding the bidding amongst the contractors to build the new Vikings stadium has turned ugly and that the nomination will be delayed. The nature of the problem remains hush-hush, but perhaps it will be discussed at Friday's Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority meeting.

• The Gophers basketball team is scheduled to play in the Maui Invitational to be held Nov. 25-27. Other schools in the tournament include Syracuse, Gonzaga, Arkansas, Baylor, Dayton and California.

• Speaking of Alex Foster and Alvin Ellis, the two Gophers recruits faced off last month when Foster's Seton (Ill.) Academy squad defeated Ellis and De La Salle 57-48. Foster finished with seven points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, and Ellis ended up with seven points as well. Foster recently was invited to play in the McDonald's All-American game.

• Former Gopher Dan Coleman is playing well for Joensuun Kataja in Finland. Through three games he is averaging 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.3 minutes. ... Another former Gopher, Vincent Grier, has played in one game for Pi Koleji Ankara in Turkey. He had one rebound and one assist in seven minutes. ... Mo Hargrow has played in three games for the Sendai 89ers in Japan, averaging 16.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.0 rebounds.

• Former Blaine standout Dan Johnson has signed with the New York Yankees, agreeing to a minor league contract that will pay him $900,000 if he makes the major league squad. Last season Johnson batted .364 in 14 games with the Chicago White Sox, hitting three home runs and driving in six runs.

• Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was named the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Year, meaning that $25,000 will be awarded to Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, which helps teach students how to start and grow their own businesses.

• The Gophers men's hockey team was idle last weekend, but it remains No. 1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine national rankings. The Gophers received 21 first-place votes and 494 points overall to keep them in front of Quinnipiac.

• The Gophers men's indoor track and field team is ranked No. 8 in the country, the second-highest-ranked team in the Big Ten, according to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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