Gopher Men’s Roller Coaster Ride Comes to an End

Well, the Minnesota Gopher men’s roller coaster of a basketball season has come to an end with a 76-64 loss at Indiana State in the 2nd round of the NIT, against a team that probably can make a pretty good case that the NCAA screwed up or just plain screwed ’em by keeping the Sycamores out of their tournament. It was a microcosm of the Gophers season. They played pretty well and they played hard, but they couldn’t make their free throws and they had too many turnovers, and their opponent was just a little bit better than they were. The turnovers were just 15-10, but the points off turnovers were 19-11 and the fast break points were 15-6, all in favor of Indiana State. The Gophers had no margin for error and then they made some errors. You couldn’t help but feel that it was the Gophers themselves and not the Sycamores who beat the Gophers.

But the big picture is this. The Gophers were 2-17 in the Big 10 last year, and they were picked for dead last, 14th out of 14, last fall. A 9-11 record in the Big 10 felt like a heck of an achievement, and yet you couldn’t help but feel that they coulda won 3 or 4 more games. Some nights they couldn’t get a stop, as in 80 minutes against Iowa. Some nights they just couldn’t get a bucket, like in the last 1:30 against Wisconsin when a win was well within reach. Some nights they couldn’t do either, as in the 2nd half against Missouri when they coughed up a 59-39 lead at home to a team that, did you notice?, managed to go 0-18 in the SEC.

But, then there were nights when we left the other guy feeling pretty bad, too, as when we came back from a 39-24 halftime deficit to beat Nebraska, or when we came back from a 12 point half-time deficit to beat Penn State, or the night when we didn’t have to come back and we never, ever let Ohio State back into that game at the Barn.

So, yeah, the Gophers season was a roller-coaster all right, but I’m thinking that Iowa and Wisconin and Ohio State are all saying that their seasons were roller coaster rides, too. That’s how it is in the Big 10 unless you’re Purdue. Still, 3 more wins and they’d be 22-12 but of course their season would still be over, like Wisconsin’s. It’s just that we would have gone out of the NCAA tournament instead of the NIT. But with 3 more wins and an NCAA tournament bid, after 2-17 and picked pretty much unanimously for last place? I’m thinking Ben Johnson is coach of the year in the Big 10, though I understand that he’s not. That, too, is how it goes in the Big 10.

But, Cam Christie got the Freshman of the Year award! And yet, a 19-15 season and Christie’s award don’t necessarily inspire a lot of confidence for next year. First of all, it will be the same struggle again next year, with bigger, stronger, more athletic teams to the left and to the right. This year the Gophers played hard and they played well, and they went 9-11. If they play any less well next year or any less hard, you can’t help but fear that   2-17 is always lurking, ready to grab you if your concentrate should falter even a tiny bit. And then, secondly, there’s the transfer portal and the NIL and other schools have more money to give than we do. I heard that Jamieson Battle got $250 large and I heard that Jamieson Battle got $350. Dennis Evans, the big center that Ben Johnson recruited but who then jumped to Louisville, well, he got $1 million. How much do you think somebody is ready to offer Cam Christie?

And, so, one measure of the Gophers’ success this year is this. I sure hope that every Gopher who’s got eligibility is going to be coming back. If everybody returns we would have 63 points per game coming back. That would be the most in the Big 10, one more even than a remarkably young UCLA team that should probably be favored to win the Big 10 next year; and four more than Nebraska, and nine more than Wisconsin. But, of course, not everybody is going to come back. But Dawson Garcia, Cam Christie, Elijah Hawkins, Mike Mithcell, Pharrel Payne, and Caeden Carrington, they’re the nucleus and they’re a really good nucleus. Guys, please come back! We need every one of them because there’s no margin for error.

Now I’m assuming that Josh Ola-Joseph won’t be back. After starting for a year-and-a-half, he cant’t be happy with his steadily dwindling minutes this year–due, they say, to his reluctance to play defense. But if all of the players I mentioned above come back, a 12-8 record is well within reach and say even just one win in the conference tournament. We would be about 23-9 going into the NCAAs and we would be going into the NCAAs. But there’s no margin for error.

The Bottom Line–Ben Johnson is a solid contender for my Coach of the Year award; and Dawson Garcia is in the running for Player of the Year. The Gophers are not quite a Team of the Year contender. The Nebraska win is probably not quite a Game of the Year contender.

2025 Big 10 Preview

UCLA, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Indiana, Oregon, Iowa and USC all have pretty good talent coming back in roughly that order. Meanwhile Rutgers, Purdue, Michigan State, USC and Illinois all have top 25 recruiting classes coming in with Penn State, Maryland, Washington and Iowa not too far behind. The Gophers? They’re too far behind, rated 16th out of the 18 teams. Isaac Asuma from Cherry is actually pretty highly regarded, Grayson Grove of Alexandria a little less so. Jack Robison and Daniel Freitag, who continued the now increasingly hallowed tradition (and increasingly sickening tradition) of south metro guys going to Wisconsin, woulda made the Gophers recruiting class respectable, but if you’re gonna rely on guys from the south metro to make the Gophers respectable, forget about it. It ain’t gonna happen. And that’s just one more reason why one’s optimism for the Gophers are going to continue to be tempered until it starts looking like metro kids want to go there.

Still here’s how the 18 team chaos of the 2025 Big 10 season is going to play out.

  1. UCLA–by far the best returning talent in the Big 10 including awesome size
  2. Wisconsin–the best returning talent among current Big 10 teams with Storr, Crowl, Hepburn and Klesmit
  3. Nebraska–the deepest returning talent  but no top-line talent like A.J. Storr or Kel’el Ware
  4. Oregon–has very deep talent returning
  5. Indiana–great top-line talent with great size, not much depth and no point guard, but they’re still in the running for the #16 recruit, the top-ranked senior who is still available
  6. Ohio State–nice top-line talent (Thornton, Gayle) but lack the depth of Wisconsin ad Nebraska
  7. Minnesota–good top-line talent (Garcia, Hawkins, Christie) and good depth, both
  8. Iowa–has excellent top-line talent (Sandfort, Freeman, Dix) but not much depth
  9. USC–has a go-to guy and some depth
  10. Purdue–have neither a great top-line talent nor a whole of depth
  11. Michigan State–like Purdue, there’s neither an obvious go-to guy nor a lot of depth
  12. Illinois–ditto
  13. Rutgers–has a super recruiting class coming in, but they’ll be freshmen
  14. Maryland–some guys coming back and a good recruiting class
  15. Penn State–a good recruiting class but not a lot coming back
  16. Northwestern–loses a lot
  17. Michigan–starting over with pretty much a blank slate
  18. Washington–loses almost everybody, they were a senior team but not very good