The NCAA tournament selection committee rewarded the Gophers’ 24-win season with a No. 5 seed. The masses, however, have little confidence in the Gophers’ ability to advance even past the first round.
A roundup of predictions from college basketball insiders and fans reveal Middle Tennessee as the favorite to upset the Gophers Thursday at 3 p.m. in Milwaukee. And as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, MTSU was seen as a consensus one-point favorite over Minnesota despite the Blue Raiders being a No. 12 seed.
Three of five CBS experts picked Middle Tennessee over the Gophers. Sports Illustrated labeled the matchup an “upset watch.”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino won’t let the buzz distract his team. They overcame an underdog role all season to finish fourth in the Big Ten and earn several all-conference honors.
“Everybody thinks we shouldn’t show up, from what I’ve been hearing and reading,” Pitino said. “I think nationally there are a lot of people saying we’re not going to win.”
So what do the brackets predict and what are people saying?
Jerry Palm, the mind behind CBS Sports’ bracketology, picked Middle Tennessee to upset the Gophers and then Butler on its way to the Sweet 16. Dennis Dodd is the only CBS expert to pick the Gophers to advance to the Sweet 16.
Sports Illustrated considers Middle Tennessee to be one of the best mid-major teams in the country. The tournament preview reads: “There’s no doubt that this team is better [than last year when it upset No. 2 seed Michigan State], which gives the Blue Raiders all the ingredients to pull another NCAA tournament upset.
“Minnesota’s lack of NCAA tournament experience and coach Richard Pitino’s first trip to the dance make this matchup the region’s most compelling game. It would be hard to consider it a huge upset if Middle Tennessee wins.”
Aaron Torres at Fox Sports described Middle Tennessee as the “Team everyone has wanted to avoid for weeks, coming off a 30-4 regular season with 21 wins in their last 22 games.”
He added, “Not only is Middle Tennessee State capable of beating Minnesota in Round 1, but the Butler/Winthrop winner in the second round. Do not be surprised to see this team in the Sweet 16.”
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf also is sending the Gophers home early.
Medcalf wrote, “Without injured guard Akeem Springs (9.5 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line), Minnesota won't find enough offense in a tight, opening-round loss to a Middle Tennessee squad that rarely commits turnovers and connects on 37 percent of its 3-pointers.”
Bleacher Report showed some support for the Gophers.
“This is the first game to look at if you're looking to pick that popular No. 12 seed upset, but Vegas wouldn't even consider this game an upset,” Bleacher Report's tournament preview read.
“Diving into the matchup a little bit, however, and it's a little odd that Minnesota isn't favored to win by at least a couple points. The Golden Gophers finished in fourth place in the Big Ten and won 24 games. Granted, the Big Ten had a down year, but it's still a power conference and teams just don't fluke their way to 24 victories. Seven of those 24 wins were against NCAA tournament teams.”
However, C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote “Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts are back to spoil things for a Big Ten team again this year.” Mike DeCourcy at Sporting News also picked Middle Tennessee. Nick Fasulo at SB Nation is sending the Blue Raiders to the Sweet 16.
New York Times writers March Tracy and Zach Schonbrun picked the Gophers to lose in the first round. They also explained why the upset might not happen.
“Minnesota can defend, too,” Tracy and Schonbrun wrote. “Coach Richard Pitino, like his father, Rick, loves a tough-nosed brand of basketball, and the Gophers are led inside by the Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch (3.47 blocks per game). Middle Tennessee State is also missing one key element from last season: the surprise factor.
Henry Bushnell and Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo! Sports used the words “love” and “I believe in most” to describe Middle Tennessee’s chances at upsetting the Gophers.Land of 10, the Big Ten-focused sports website, picked the Gophers to fall to Middle Tennessee.
“Everyone loves Middle Tennessee here, because it beat Michigan State last year and the Gophers are short a key player (Akeem Springs,” Corey Masisak wrote. “Going against the consensus can be fun, except when it’s 10 minutes in and the decision is already a regrettable one.”
The Twitter account “Six Wins in March” has sided with the Gophers and tweeted “Minnesota is going to handle Middle Tennessee.”