When the Gophers men’s basketball team set out to show how much better it was than last season, there were no numbers placed on the level of improvement.
But fourth-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has a chance Wednesday night against Indiana to tie the school record for largest year-to-year improvement. Pitino went from 8-23 last year to 18-7 this season so far.
Minnesota’s 10-win improvement already ranks No. 1 among Division I basketball programs in 2016-17. UCLA is the closest in the major conferences with an eight-win difference from last season.
Wednesday night, Pitino can tie former Gophers coach Tubby Smith, who has the biggest one-year turnaround in program history with an 11-win difference from 9-22 in 2006-07 to 20-14 in his first season in 2007-08.
“Hopefully, we can get those great environments again,” Pitino said about packing Williams Arena. “It should be a fun couple weeks. Our fans are awesome. Locally, our fans didn’t know how good we can become. Hopefully they understand it now. We’re fun to watch. We’re fun to root for.”
The Big Ten record for biggest one-season turnaround is 15 wins. Indiana coach Tom Crean went from 12-20 (3-15 in the Big Ten) in 2010-11 to 27-9 (11-7 conference) after reaching the Sweet 16 in 2011-12. That might be within reach for the Gophers if they can finish strong in the regular season and pick up some postseason victories in the Big Ten tournament and beyond.
Best recent turnarounds for Big Ten teams
15 -- Indiana 12-20 in 2010-11 to 27-9 in 2011-12 NCAA Sweet 16
10* -- Minnesota 8-23 in 2015-16 to 18-7 in 2016-17 TBD
8 -- Penn State 11-20 in 2009-10 to 19-15 in 2010-11 NCAA 2nd round
8 -- Illinois 16-19 in 2007-08 to 24-10 in 2008-09 NCAA first round
6 -- Purdue 15-17 in 2013-14 to 21-13 in 2014-15 NCAA first round (seven-win Big Ten difference)
6* – Rutgers 7-25 in 2015-16 to 13-14 in 2016-17 TBD
4 -- Nebraska 15-18 in 2012-13 to 19-13 in 2013-14 NCAA second round (six-win Big Ten difference)
* -- Teams still playing this season