Column: Michigan State victory meaningless without Big Ten tourney success

Gophers win crucial game, but response determines how crucial.

David Nelson

Carlos Morris looked up from the ground and watched as his last-second shot sailed through the hoop at the Breslin
Center.

His 3-pointer against Michigan State with 2.2 seconds to go in the contest sent the game into overtime, and Minnesota’s performance in the extra minutes allowed the Gophers to capture their first victory in East Lansing, Mich., in more than a decade.

The road victory might be Minnesota’s best all season. The team showed determination and offensive prowess against one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.

Ultimately, though, the win is completely meaningless unless the Gophers can make some moves in the Big Ten tournament.

A similar situation to this one presented itself two-and-a-half weeks ago.

Coming off a quality road victory versus Iowa, Minnesota looked like it turned around its season after recording its third consecutive victory.

But the Gophers couldn’t continue that momentum and lost the next three games — including a cringe-worthy defeat at the hands of Northwestern.

A cupcake start to the nonconference schedule is the only thing keeping Minnesota from being a below .500 team, and the people who make up the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) selection committee will understand that.

Realistically, the NCAA tournament is outside of the Gophers’ grasp. The team would almost certainly need to win their next four games for that to even be a possibility.

Two home contests remain on Minnesota’s regular season schedule before it heads to Chicago for the Big Ten tournament: one against Wisconsin, which could get ugly very quickly, and one matchup with Penn State.

A win against the Badgers would be momentous for the Gophers.

Still, that might not be enough to elevate Minnesota to a postseason tournament, so the Big Ten tournament becomes the Gophers’ ticket in.

At this point, Minnesota is slated to match up with Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

 The Hoosiers already downed Minnesota two weeks ago and boasted one of the best offenses in the country, scoring almost 80 points per game.

Based on current projections, the Gophers would then face off with Maryland — a team ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected to be a three seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Is it possible that Minnesota wins these contests? Sure. Is it probable? That’s something for the Gophers’ seniors to decide.

If nothing else, the victory over the Spartans showed it’s not yet time to throw in the towel on the season.

Morris’ late-game heroics left the door open for Minnesota to decide its own destiny for the way its year finishes.

The victory was critical, but it’s how Minnesota chooses to respond that determines whether the Michigan State game was simply a moral victory or a victory that helped propel the Gophers into the postseason.