Pitino’s first year proves a success

The U will remember the Gophers’ 2013-14 season for years to come.

The Minnesota men’s basketball squad is one of only two teams this season that will end its postseason run with a victory.

The Gophers defeated Southern Methodist University 65-63 last Thursday to take home the National Invitation Tournament championship. The win is a bit of a redemption story, as Stanford University crushed them in the same game just two seasons earlier, when they lost 75-51 in the final.

Though they failed to receive a bid into NCAA tournament this year, first-year head coach Richard Pitino and his team weren’t finished just yet. After the selection committee snubbed them, the squad won five consecutive tough games. Minnesota fell behind 14-0 to St. Mary’s in the second round but won 63-55.

The Gophers haven’t won the NIT since 1998, a victory that was vacated as a result of the men’s basketball cheating scandal. This season’s 25 victories are officially a school record for a single season, the Star Tribune reported. With the national title win, Gophers fans are right to be excited about the team’s future under Pitino. 

Though the NIT is often wrongly put down as inconsequential, any casual observer could see that the tournament features talented teams. South Methodist defeated the University of Connecticut twice during the regular season, and Connecticut will play the University of Kentucky in the NCAA title game Monday.

Pitino’s first year coaching the Gophers was an undeniable success. The team was better than most people expected for the coach’s first season in the Big Ten, and his strong leadership skills were on display for all fans and potential recruits to see.

Austin Hollins, whose last shot as a Gopher was a crucial 3-pointer, received the Most Outstanding Player of the NIT award. He will be sorely missed next year.

But with Pitino’s leadership skills and ability to develop players, there’s no telling how far his team will go next year.