Twelve months after cutting down the nets as the NIT champions at Madison Square Garden and setting lofty expectations for coach Richard Pitino’s Year 2, Minnesota missed both major postseason tournaments for the first time since 2010-11.
Minnesota’s NCAA fate was determined in recent days, after the Gophers failed to capitalize on two big chances vs. Wisconsin and more in the league tournament last week. Sunday night, the Gophers (18-15, 6-12 Big Ten) were left out of the 32-team NIT field as well.
Pitino said after Thursday’s loss to Ohio State in Chicago, the Gophers’ sixth loss in eight games, that he was “99 percent sure” he would decline any invitations to lesser tournaments such as the CBI or CIT. No Minnesota coaches or players were made available for comment following the committee’s decision, but a university source said the Gophers were finished for the season.
The Gophers made the NIT field three years ago with a 6-12 conference record, but had a better RPI and a big win, over No. 7 Indiana on the road in that season. This year, Minnesota’s RPI ranked 97th on selection night, and the Gophers — whose best wins came at Iowa and at Michigan State — were without a single ranked victory.
After the 2010-11 season, Tubby Smith’s fourth at Minnesota, the Gophers lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and missed both the NIT and NCAAs. That season started with promise and an early victory over highly ranked North Carolina.
This season’s finish is also something of a shock for the fan base, one that expected the program to take the next step. Minnesota showed some of that promise in the nonconference slate, ranking in the top 10 nationally in steals and assists. But after an 0-5 Big Ten start and nine losses by six points or fewer, such statistics began to look anecdotal.
Even in the Minnesota locker room, interest in the Gophers’ place in the secondary tournament waned as the season winded down.
“I don’t know if you want to be back-to-back NIT champions,” guard DeAndre Mathieu said earlier this month.
The Gophers won’t have the chance.