Gophers sweat out Selection Sunday, get a tournament bid

Minnesota Vs. Wisconsin

Matt Mead

Minnesota Vs. Wisconsin

For the first time since 2005, the Gophers are going to the NCAA tournament, the NCAAâÄôs tournament selection committee announced Sunday. They received a No. 10 seed — in line with predictions from most bracketologists — and will play No. 7 Texas on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C at 6:10 p.m. If the Gophers get past Texas, they would, barring upset, face No. 2 Duke in the second round. âÄúItâÄôs an overwhelming feeling,âÄù head coach Tubby Smith said at a press conference shortly after the announcement. âÄúI equate it to me waiting for my sons to be born. YouâÄôre pacing the floor, and every time the doctor comes out, youâÄôre wondering. ThatâÄôs what itâÄôs like, and itâÄôs a grand feeling when it does happen.âÄù Though top bracket pundits like ESPN.comâÄôs Joe Lunardi, CollegeRPIâÄòs Jerry Palm and the website Bracketology 101 all considered Minnesota to be in the tournament, the GophersâÄò weak finish to the season led to concern about a second-straight NIT berth. The selection show, which was aired exclusively on CBS, didnâÄôt do much to calm those fears, as the Gophers were the 49th out of 65 teams announced. Surprise berths for bubble teams like Arizona and Maryland earlier in the bracket announcements used up at-large bids that the Gophers were competing for. âÄúI was probably one of the most nervous people,âÄù junior forward Damian Johnson said. âÄúI saw Maryland and Arizona make it, and those were teams I didnâÄôt know for sure that would be in, but once we saw us, everybody went crazy. I think a couple guys wanted a body slam.âÄù Neither Smith nor the Gophers have played Texas, which finished 22-11 and sixth in the Big 12, but Smith has a long history with Longhorns head coach Rick Barnes. Both coaches played college basketball in North Carolina — Smith at High Point and Barnes at Lenoir-Rhyne — and played against each other when Smith was a senior and Barnes a freshman. The two also competed as recruiters when Smith was an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth and Barnes was at George Mason, and coached against each other when Smith was at Georgia and Barnes was at Clemson. Smith said he didnâÄôt know much about the Longhorns but will have an easier time scouting because they played two Big Ten teams in their nonconference schedule — Michigan State and Wisconsin. They started the season ranked No. 7 in the nation and got as high as No. 5 before a rough middle of the season knocked them from the rankings. âÄúI think this is more about what we can do than about Texas,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúItâÄôs tournament time and a lot of crazy things are going to happen.âÄù Seven Big Ten teams made it into the tournament, with Penn State being the only âÄúbubbleâÄù team excluded. The GophersâÄô win over Louisville in January likely got them their tournament spot, as the Cardinals were given the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament (the committee not only assigns four of each seed, but ranks those seeds). With their 1997 Final Four run stricken from the record books due to an academic scandal, the Gophers havenâÄôt officially won a tournament game since 1990. Their last tournament game was a first-round loss to Iowa State in 2005, as a No. 8 seed, and only senior Jonathan Williams was on that team — and he saw out most of the season with a medical redshirt. But Smith has been to 14 NCAA tournament appearances and has the sixth-best NCAA tournament record (29-13) among active coaches. A second-round game against Duke would be especially intriguing because of SmithâÄòs dramatic win over the Blue Devils in 1996, the year he won a national championship with Kentucky, when the Wildcats came back from a 17-point deficit with under 10 minutes left. âÄúWith a young team that hasnâÄôt been to the tournament, except for Jon, [Smith] brings confidence,âÄù senior Jamal Abu-Shamala said. âÄúHeâÄôs been so successful in the tournament that weâÄôll put our trust in him, and from there he should take care of the rest.âÄù