NCAA expectations begin to materialize

Taking care of teams such as Northwestern is a must, if Minnesota wants an NCAA berth.

Bob Wothe

No matter what Dan Monson says, nobody is going to be confusing Vincent Grier and Jimmy Chitwood anytime soon.

“We were drawing stuff up for Vincent that we’ve never ran before,” the Minnesota men’s basketball coach said after the Gophers’ 60-50 win against the Badgers on Saturday. “It was like a sandlot in there – it was like he was Jimmy Chitwood.”

But the physical makeup is too different, and you certainly won’t see Grier sporting Chitwood’s old-school short shorts from the classic basketball movie “Hoosiers.”

And yet, seeing Grier walk onto the court in mid-thighs might still be more likely than seeing him lead a title run similar to the one Chitwood leads Hickory High on.

On the other hand, Grier’s Chitwood-esque performance Saturday has entirely changed the national perception of the Gophers.

Minnesota (16-6, 6-3 Big Ten) has officially gone from a team that has no business being in the NCAA Tournament to a team that people will be disappointed in if it’s not.

The team takes the hardwood tonight hoping to stay the course against Northwestern (10-11, 3-6).

“We feel pretty good about ourselves right now,” center Jeff Hagen said. “It’s nice to get a chance to prove everyone who said we wouldn’t win a game wrong.”

As Hagen said, this was a team that some prominent experts suspected might not even win a game in the Big Ten.

But Grier’s big game against Wisconsin helped him to earn attention on the national stage. He was named Big Ten player of the week and voted ESPN’s “Big Man on Campus” after the weekend.

Not only did the win give Grier individual accolades, but the Gophers moved into a tie with the Badgers for third place in the Big Ten and hold the tie-breaker by virtue of Saturday’s win.

Most critics have now turned into supporters, and history is on Minnesota’s side – the last time the Gophers won 16 of their first 22 games was 1990. That squad advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.

But the Gophers still refuse to get too far ahead of themselves and will have to take care of the Wildcats.

Northwestern has not won a true road game all year, with its only win away from Evanston, Ill., coming against Portland on Nov. 19 in Fairbanks, Alaska .

A bigger problem for Northwestern might be the day of the game – Minnesota is 9-0 on Wednesdays and has outscored its opponents by an average of 13.9 points.

Despite all of that, Vincent Chitwood, er, Grier, is keeping things in perspective.

“Every Big Ten win is big,” Grier said. “It doesn’t matter that we beat Wisconsin, if we come out and lose to Northwestern.”