Richard Pitino really, really doesn’t care about his Gophers basketball team being ranked in the top 25, but it’s likely happening this week whether he likes it or not after Sunday’s 78-68 win over Ohio State.
The Gophers (15-2) are now tied with Purdue, Michigan State and Nebraska at the top of the Big Ten at 3-1 after three straight wins against the Boilermakers, Northwestern and the Buckeyes.
“Rankings mean, absolutely 1,000 percent nothing to me,” Pitino said Sunday. “RPI means something to me. Strength of schedule means something to me. I know we’re 5-6-7 in both. So we’ve had a top 10 strength of schedule in the country. We’ve got a top 10 RPI in the country. Where we’re at in the conference is phenomenal, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
CBSSports.com got ahead of the official rankings earlier in the week by updating its top 25 (and one) to put the Gophers at No. 25 after winning at Northwestern on Thursday.
The Associated Press poll and USA Today Coaches poll will be released Monday afternoon. At least one of those polls is likely to have Minnesota make its first top 25 appearance since being ranked 18th on Feb. 4, 2013.
The Gophers were basically the 26th best team in the nation in the AP poll last week receiving 56 points in the others receiving votes category.
“Rankings are for the fans,” Pitino said. “I’m happy we’re going to be ranked, but that’s not our goal.”
The goal is the NCAA tournament, which several players have made pretty clear despite Pitino’s warnings to stay away from that talk this early.
Minnesota definitely looked like a NCAA tournament-caliber team Sunday, with production from several different places.
On the perimeter, freshman Amir Coffey and senior Akeem Springs combined for 37 points on 13-for-21 shooting, to go with 10 assists. In the paint, Reggie Lynch had 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks. Jordan Murphy had 11 rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Off the bench, Bakary Konate and Eric Curry also combined for six of the team’s season-high 12 blocks.
Starters Mason, Murphy and Dupree McBrayer combined to shoot 7-for-32 from the field, but they didn’t let a poor offensive night keep them from working hard defensively.
The Williams Arena crowd tensed up when the Buckeyes cut it to a three-point game with four minutes remaining. But the Gophers had been in that position able to pull games out down the stretch several times this season.
“I think our nonconference schedule having to pull out those close games is really showing now,” Springs said. “Just having the confidence when it gets tight.”
COFFEY GETS UP: Amir Coffey’s two-hand dunk in traffic in the second half Sunday was probably one of the best highlights of the season so far for the Gophers.
Coffey didn’t have much to say about it after the game, because of his modest nature. But Springs noticed how big the play was just based on his usually reserved younger teammate’s reaction.
“Amir Coffey does not celebrate,” Springs said. “So when you see him celebrate, he’s more than excited.”
CURRY INJURY: Pitino said he didn’t know if freshman forward Eric Curry was going to play Sunday against the Buckeyes after suffering a bruised heel in practice.
But Curry helped the Gophers when Murphy and Lynch were in foul trouble. He didn’t score, but Curry still had three rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 12 minutes off the bench.
“I think his teammates got to him,” Pitino said. “He told me before the game, ‘I’m going to play. I’m going to play.’ I think his teammates got to him. He really toughed it out, gutted it out. Gave us 12 good minutes.”