The Gophers started off with a bang in 2017 with their best win all year coming New Year’s Day in West Lafayette 91-82 in overtime at eventual Big Ten champion Purdue.
The Boilermakers currently have a 16-game winning streak at Mackey Arena, which includes going undefeated so far this season. Their last home loss was to Minnesota last season. Pretty impressive.
So that’s my pick for the best win in 2017 without a doubt.
Let’s see some of my other choices for best of the year for Gophers basketball as we welcome in 2018.
Best player: JORDAN MURPHY
Why: Murphy basically went from worst to first as far as what type of impact he had for the Gophers from the beginning to the end of 2017. He failed to reach double figures in scoring in seven of his first nine games of the year. He only averaged 7.4 points for the Gophers during a 4-5 start to Big Ten play last season. How erratic was Murphy’s play to that point? He went from a 21-rebound game vs. Michigan State to just one rebound in a loss vs. Wisconsin. But he finished last season on a double-double tear that carried over to a record-setting pace this season. Murphy averaged 15.2 points and 11.9 rebounds in his final 11 games last season, including seven double-doubles. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior put himself into Big Ten player of the year conversation this season leading the league in points (19.1) and rebounds (12.6) through 14 games in 2017-18.
Best play: AKEEM SPRINGS GAME-WINNER VS. INDIANA
Why: The senior graduate transfer missed his first 10 shots of the game, but he sank a baseline shot with three seconds left to lift the Gophers in a 75-74 win against the Hoosiers at Williams Arena. Springs never hesitated after receiving the ball off his missed three-pointer tipped on an offensive rebound by Eric Curry. The victory was Minnesota’s fourth in a row, halfway to the eight consecutive wins that sealed the first NCAA tournament berth since 2013.
Best game: WIN AT MARYLAND
Why: The Gophers trailed their ranked opponent on the road by one at halftime, but they dominated from that point on for an 89-75 win at Maryland. Richard Pitino’s guys outscored the Terrapins 55-40 in the second half. It was Minnesota’s third straight Big Ten road win, which hadn’t been done since 1989-90. Five players scored in double figures for the Gophers, who shot 50 percent from the field.
Best dunk: JORDAN MURPHY POSTER VS. RUTGERS
Best performance: NATE MASON VS. PURDUE AND REGGIE LYNCH VS. PENN STATE (TIE)
Why: You probably notice a theme here. A lot of the best from 2017 happened last season. Mason’s 31-point, 11-assist performance at Purdue put him in the running for an All-Big Ten first-team selection from the very beginning of the year. Mason would eventually be the first Gopher since Vince Grier in 2005 to land that honor last season. In his first season playing for the Gophers, Lynch pretty much secured the Big Ten defensive player of the year award after his 11-block performance against Penn State at the Barn. The 6-10 Edina native came just one block short of tying Mychal Thompson’s Big Ten and school record for blocks in a game set back in 1976. And he got robbed. Lynch had one block counted as a deflection when a Penn State player took a shot late in the second half. How that happens at home still bothers me, but it didn’t keep Lynch from having one of the top performances of 2017 nonetheless.
Best moment: NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTION SHOW
Why: The bad vibes that came from the eight-win season seemed to be wiped away for good when Gophers fans, players and coaches celebrated last season's NCAA tournament selection show in a suite at US Bank Stadium. The 16-game turnaround led to a No. 5 seed in Milwaukee against Middle Tennessee. The outcome wasn't what Pitino and company wanted (injuries to Mason and Springs had a lot to do with that early exit), but it didn't take away from how much the program injected life back into a passionate fan base starving for a contender. Looking forward to seeing what makes this list for the Gophers in 2018. Happy New Year!