As the Gophers volleyball team sat and watched the Selection Sunday show for the NCAA tournament on ESPNU, there was a fleeting sting.
The analysts looked at the top four overall seeds from the field for this season — Louisville, Texas, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin — and compared it to the top four from last season, when Minnesota was the No. 3 seed.
The broadcasters said, almost in passing, that the Gophers "have fallen down a little bit."
For a second the team was quiet, then a player in the front row jokingly shook a mocking finger at the television as the group burst into laughter.
If they've fallen, they're not down.
And now the NCAA tournament is coming back to Maturi Pavilion.
The Gophers were named the No. 12 overall seed in the tournament on Sunday night. They will host two first-round matches and a second-round match this week.
It will have a truly regional feel when Minnesota faces South Dakota on Friday in one of those opening matches. Iowa State will play Stanford in the other.
The Coyotes finished 20-9 and won the Summit League tournament on Saturday, sweeping Omaha after defeating South Dakota State in five sets in the semifinals.
The NCAA tournament returns to a full 64-team field playing at campus sites for the first two rounds after the entire 2020 tournament was in Omaha with a trimmed field of 32 teams because of COVID-19 concerns.
However the tournament plays out, it will cap an unprecedented year for the Gophers.
Friday's tournament opener will mark the 48th match for Minnesota in 2021, stretching back to that postponed 2020-2021 season that started in January.
For comparison's sake, when the Gophers reached the Final Four in 2019, they played 33 matches that year. If they make it that far this season, they'll eclipse 50.
Minnesota finished last season with a five-set Sweet 16 loss to Pittsburgh in Omaha in April. Turnaround was swift and aggressive as the Gophers opened this season four months later in August.
They finished 20-8 overall and in a three-way tie for third place at 15-5 in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten had five teams among the top 16 seeds and advanced eight teams altogether to the tournament — more than any other conference. Wisconsin was the highest overall seed at No. 4, followed by Purdue (6), Ohio State (9) and Nebraska (10).
"It was a heck of a year in conference," Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "You know it's very seldom that you'll see a Big Ten champion at 17-3 and you know [second place] 16-4 and three teams at 15-5, it was just a really rugged year and great."
The Gophers eight losses overall are tied for the second most under McCutcheon — matching his first season in 2012 when the team finished 27-8. In 2014, they finished 19-12, the only year they haven't reached the tournament during his tenure.
Still if the Gophers have struggled some this season, they also have shown resiliency. Minnesota went 7-7 against ranked opponents, including a crucial four-set road win against Penn State last Friday night.
Their region will feel familiar with Wisconsin at the bottom of the bracket and Baylor, the No. 5 seed, at the top. The Gophers faced both teams this season, losing their season opener to Baylor in four sets and losing twice to Wisconsin, including one week ago in a tight five-set match.
"The one thing about playing the schedule we played is we got to see a lot of these teams once already," McCutcheon said. "Let's hope we get to see them twice."
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