Gophers could be one win away from NCAA Tournament

In 2005, then-head coach Dan Monson brought a Gophers team that finished 12-18 to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed. True freshman Jonathan Williams played in two games that season before injuring his knee and receiving a medical redshirt. He watched in street clothes as the Gophers, led that year by Vincent Grier and Jeff Hagan, lost in the first round to Iowa State. They havenâÄôt been back since. Monson resigned during the next season, which ended with a bid to the second-tier National Invitational Tournament after a 10th-place finish. The next season, under interim coach Jim Molinari, they didnâÄôt even make the NIT. Under Tubby Smith last season they came the closest, with two Big Ten tournament wins, but again settled for the NIT, where they lost in the first round. Williams is the only current Gophers player to even be a part of an NCAA Tournament team, but with a big win over Wisconsin on Wednesday night, the Gophers are close to an at-large bid. A win Saturday against Michigan, 11 a.m. at Williams Arena, would all but put them in. âÄúWe hear it on ESPN and stuff, and you hear people whispering,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúWe definitely want to get that win.âÄù ESPNâÄôs Joe Lunardi projects the Gophers as currently in the tournament as a No. 9 seed. He also has Michigan as a No. 12 seed but âÄúone of the last four in.âÄù Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Northwestern are all tournament-qualified teams without guarantees in the Big Ten. Without a win over the Wolverines, Minnesota may need to win a game in the single-elimination Big Ten Tournament, which starts next week, to get in. Michigan breezed by the Gophers in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Feb. 19, surprising the Gophers with their outside shooting. They came into the game last in the Big Ten in three-point shooting, but finished with 13 of them and won 74-62. âÄúThe key is just guarding the perimeter,âÄù senior Jamal Abu-Shamala said. âÄúWe know they want the same thing we want.âÄù Senior Day Lineup SmithâÄôs decision to shake up his starting lineup Wednesday night got a lot of attention. For the first time in the Big Ten season, guards Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen began the game on the bench, in favor of Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber. Both Smith and Westbrook, who scored the teamâÄôs final 10 points in a dramatic win, said the shake-up worked and Smith said Friday that heâÄôs considering keeping the new lineup. In a Senior Day Tradition, Smith will also start Williams and Abu-Shamala in their last home game.