Being ranked early in January means more to some college basketball teams than to others.
For the Gophers, it means they have come a long way to get back into the top 25 for the first time in four years.
Coach Richard Pitino’s team was ranked No. 24 in both the Associated Press media and USA Today coaches men’s basketball polls Monday after starting the season 15-2 and 3-1 in the Big Ten, including three consecutive victories.
Pitino said following Sunday night’s 78-68 victory against Ohio State at home that rankings mean “absolutely 1,000 percent nothing to me,” because the team has bigger goals than making the rankings.
“Rankings are for the fans,” Pitino said. “That’s not our goal.”
The Gophers have their eyes on the NCAA tournament. Pitino said what he cares about are Rating Percentage Index and strength of schedule rankings. The Gophers are ranked No. 7 in RPI and eighth in strength of schedule.
Gophers senior guard Akeem Springs, who transferred from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said it means a lot to him to see this team reach the top 25.
“At a midmajor you’re not going to be in the top 25 unless you go undefeated the whole year,” Springs said. “So it’s an accomplishment. It speaks to all our hard work.”
The last time the Gophers were ranked in both polls was during Tubby Smith’s final season as coach, when they were No. 18 in the country on Feb. 4, 2013. They went from a 15-1 start and as high as No. 8 down to No. 18 and then not being ranked the rest of the season after losing six of eight and four in a row.
As impressive as the turnaround from an eight-win season last year is now, the Gophers still have a long Big Ten schedule left to play with 14 regular-season games. The Gophers, who four games in own a share of the Big Ten lead, have back-to-back road games this week, at Michigan State on Wednesday and Penn State on Saturday.
• Amir Coffey was named Big Ten freshman of the week after averaging 18.0 points per game on 61 percent shooting in the Gophers’ victories over Northwestern and Ohio State.