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Nebrasketball: Minnesota Preview

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With almost tripling their wins from a season ago the Gophers have become a threat once again in the Big Ten

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview

Date: March 2nd - 6:00pm - Williams Arena - Minneapolis, MN

2015-2016 Record: 8-23 (2-16 Big Ten)

2016-2017 Record: 22-7 (10-6 Big Ten)

Head Coach: Richard Pitino (4 year)

It was not more than a season ago that Minnesota basketball fans thought they were going to be looking for a new head coach. The Gophers ended the season with a 8-23 record and a 2-16 record in conference play. It was basically up to them to fight Rutgers for the bottom of the Big Ten. Lucky for Minnesota, Rutgers was just enough worse off than they were to take that spot.

Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, was on his third year with Minnesota. During his time he somehow continued to take Minnesota down a notch each season. First year he was 25-13. The second year he was 18-15. This third year, was when the folks up north started to panic.

Many thought that this might be Pitino’s last year in Minnesota if things got any worse. Lucky for him, his team took a big turn for the better. Solid recruiting and stability in the program has helped bring the Gophers back up the ranks into the upper third of Big Ten Basketball this season.

The non conference slate was a bit light with their only major competition against top 25 ranked Florida State. The Seminoles gave them their only loss before conference play by 8 points, 67-75. Not bad for a team digging it’s way back out of the basement.

Conference play is where things got a little bit tougher for this relatively young squad. The slate started off with an overtime heart breaker to Michigan State and then an overtime win against ranked Purdue. Northwestern and Ohio State came along with little impact while also giving the Gophers their last two wins before a five game losing streak bringing them back down to reality. Things were starting to not look good for this team and were now in the bottom fourth of the Big Ten standings.

Was their early season success a fluke? Would they continue down the spiral?

After their fifth and last loss against #25 Maryland the Gophers have gone on a seven game winning streak. Pulling off overtime wins and upsets along the way. They are now back to being one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten.

They are currently lead by guard Nate Mason who is averaging 15.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, and 5.3 apg. He is quick and talented and not too far from our very own Tai Webster in style. Nate has come a long way from being suspended for the entirety of last season and has been one of the major sparks to this years resurgence.

Another name to remember is freshman Amir Coffey. This 6’8” guard has caused problems for teams all season averaging 12.2 ppg and 4.0 rpg. He has also been a major factor on and off the court for the Gophers as he has become a major leader for the group.

I should also mention 6’10” center Reggie Lynch. The junior is averaging 8.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg, and 3.4 bpg. The last number I don’t usually mention but for Lynch I will. His blocking ability is why he has become such a threat to opposing teams. He recently broke the Minnesota season record for blocks against Penn State and is currently sitting at 95 for the year.

One interesting note, the Gophers have had five games go to overtime this year and going 3-2 in them. This is not a team that you want to have stay around if you’re ahead. They will keep on the pedal and will continue to make havoc for even the best teams.

Overall, Minnesota has developed into a well balanced team offensively and a tough team to score on defensively. If Nebraska wants a shot they will need to come out strong and fast. Any point they let up and the Gophers could cruse to a victory.