Pigs and Chickens and Cows, Oh My! The Gophers men's basketball student section aka the Barnyard will be making its presence felt even more at Williams Arena this season.
Minnesota’s 2,200-seat student section at the Barn sold out its season tickets for the first time since Richard Pitino’s second season in 2014-15.
Last season, the Gophers sold barely over 1,000 student season tickets and 6,141 non-student season tickets in men’s basketball. Non-student men’s basketball season ticket sales are also close to surpassing the highest under Pitino, which was 7,225 in 2014.
The U has sold over 2,000 more men's hoops season tickets than last year, combining both the public and students. Season ticket numbers could continue to rise until after Minnesota's Nov. 10 season opener against USC Upstate.
“The excitement for this upcoming season is high, and we're so appreciative of our loyal fans who have signed on to be a part of it at the Barn," Pitino said this summer. "We want to build on last year's success and continue elevating our program, and we can't do it without our fans giving us a great home court advantage."On June 29, the Gophers announced a season ticket renewal rate of 98 percent for men’s basketball. That 98 percent rate hadn't been achieved since the first season for former Gophers coach Tubby Smith in 2007-08.
After an 8-23 record in 2015-16, the Gophers drew just 10,706 fans on average in 17 home games last season. That average dropped to 10,309, which ranked 11 of 14 teams in the Big Ten in front of only Northwestern (7,008), Penn State (6,992) and Rutgers (4,680).
But fans eventually realized the Gophers were a hot ticket once they started one of the longest win streaks (eight straight) in the country. And attendance went from 9,091 on average in 13 nonconference games to more than 12,000 at the end of the Big Ten regular season play, including sellouts (14,625) against Wisconsin and Penn State. Yes, really, Penn State!
Three years ago, Pitino's NIT championship and requiring students to purchase ticket packages for a lower combined cost resulted in a boost of student season ticket sales.
U students have the option to purchase single-sport season tickets now. So it's clear they're buying into the preseason hype for Gophers basketball. Updated CBSSports.com preseason rankings Tuesday have Minnesota as a top-13 team that can compete with Michigan State for the Big Ten title. NBC Sports' college hoops preview even picked the Gophers as a Final Four sleeper.
Pitino, who opened practice last Friday for the 2017-18 season, returns six of his top seven scorers from a 24-win NCAA tournament team, including starters Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey and Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch. He also adds one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten in New York City point guard Isaiah Washington and sharp-shooting freshman Jamir Harris.
“When we start seeing some of these preseason individual honors and team forecasting of rankings,” Gophers assistant athletics director Mike Wierzbicki said, “we just anticipate that hype and buzz leading into October and November continue to grow (season ticket sales) into the start of the season.”