Gophers Build Case for NCAA Tourney Bid

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By Jeff Fett
GopherSports.com

The Gopher men's basketball team is feeling the urgency to get a few more wins to hopefully solidify their NCAA tournament fate as they enter the B1G Basketball Tournament later this weekend in Chicago (Gophers play Illinois Thursday at 11 a.m.).

The year has moved quickly with the team experiencing a wide range of emotions this season. Starting guard Austin Hollins says the team just needs to win.

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Trevor Mbakwe and the ninth-seeded Gophers will take on eighth-seeded Illinois Thursday in the opening round of the B1G Tournament.
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"The season has flown by so fast so its come down to this and you know we got to win out, that's our goal right now," Hollins said. "(When we) get to the Big Ten Tournament, we need to win the Big Ten Tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament, so you know we got our goals set still. We're still trying to achieve those (goals) so it's just a matter of taking care of business."

The Gophers have built their case to be in the NCAA Tourney. With quality wins over Stanford, Memphis, Richmond, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, the Gophers have put themselves in the discussion for an at large berth.

Minnesota also has a myriad of other factors in their favor. Their strength of schedule is second in the nation and their opponents' strength of schedule is tops in the nation.

The Gophers RPI is also among the top 20 in the nation. The RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is important, because it measures a team's strength of schedule and the records of the teams in which they play as well.

The Gophers also are 13-9 against opponents with an RPI in the top 100 in the nation.

With the tournament season upon them, head coach Tubby Smith says Minnesota needs to remain focused.

"We know we've got a chance to get to the post-season and play in the NCAAs, but we've got a lot of work to do and I think our guys have to stay hungry and focused and take it one day at a time and one game at a time, then everything else will take care of itself if we do that," Smith said.

"We've shown we can play with anyone... We expected to be better in the Big 10, but we've beaten Michigan State, Wisconsin and others. We've beaten some good teams and with Indiana, we've competed with some good teams in the top 20 and top 100. We have the toughest schedule in college basketball, so we know what we're capable of."

Sneak Peek: Gophers vs. Penn State

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On Saturday, March 2nd, the Gophers will conclude the home schedule against Penn State at Williams Arena. In preparation for their only meeting with Penn State during the regular season, Gophersports.com' s beat writer Jeff Fett takes a look at the Nittany Lions. 

Head Coach: Patrick Chambers 

This Year's Big 10 Record: 1-14 

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The Gophers hope to capitalize on Tuesday's dramatic win over No. 1 Indiana during Senior Day on Saturday.
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Top 5 Leading Scorers: D.J. Newbill-15.8 ppg, Jermaine Marshall-15.0 ppg, Sasa Borovnjak-6.9 ppg, Ross Travis-6.5 ppg, Brandon Taylor-5.7 ppg. 

Top 5 Leading Rebounders: Ross Travis-7.2 rpg, D.J. Newbill-5.6 rpg, Jermaine Marshall-4.5 rpg, Brandon Taylor-3.5 rpg, Sasa Borovnjak-3.4 rpg. 

Notable wins: Michigan, Providence, Bucknell, Army 

Outlook 

Penn State has had its struggles, but a win over no. 4 ranked Michigan may have this team finally turning the corner. Head Coach Patrick Chambers has had a tough time in the Big Ten in his second season. At one point, Penn State lost 18 straight conference games dating back to last season, but the Nittany Lions will be coming in with some confidence after the first Big Ten win of the season. 

Penn State suffered a big blow just a few games into its season. All Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier ruptured his Achilles tendon in its loss to Akron. He's out for the year. He led Penn State last season in all of the major categories. He is a "Mr. Do Everything" for the Nittany Lions and is obviously missed.

Fortunately for Penn State, the backcourt is still their strength, even without Frazier. Sophomore D.J. Newbill, a transfer from Southern Miss has stepped up in his absence and is leading the team in scoring and second in rebounds. Junior Jermaine Marshall has also upped his game and provided much needed leadership on the court. 

In a tough Big Ten conference where there are plenty of big men to throw the basketball to, that's where Penn State needs help. The tallest player playing consistent minutes is 6'9" junior Sasa Borovnjak. He's averaging six points and three rebounds a game. Chaska native Ross Travis leads this team in rebounding at 7.2 boards per game. 

Penn State has had its struggles this season, but a few more wins to end the year could build some confidence as the Nittany Lions look toward next season. 

Video Collection: Coach Smith on the Indiana Win

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Many Gopher Basketball fans are still on Cloud Nine after the Gophers' incredible upset of No. 1-ranked Indiana Tuesday at the Barn, Minnesota's first victory over a No. 1 team since 1989 (Illinois).

Gopher head coach Tubby Smith and his staff are busy preparing for Saturday's home final vs. Penn State, but Coach has taken some time to address the local media over the past couple of days to reflect on the victory. Above, GopherSports.com has exclusive video of Coach's post game address to his players in the locker room directly following the game -- it's not quite as hip-shaking as his post-Wisconsin speech, but still worth watching!

Coach also spoke with the media during a special availability on Wednesday. Watch highlights from that interview below:

In addition, the Big Ten Network was kind enough to share with us Coach Smith's post game on-court interview with Ann Carroll directly following the win. Take a look below: 

The Gophers are hard at work preparing for Senior Day on Saturday, when they end their home season against the Penn State Nittany Lions (tickets available by clicking here). PSU pulled off a court-storming upset of their own Wednesday against No. 4 Michigan.

Next Day Reaction: Gophers Stun No. 1 Indiana

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TICKETS: Watch the home finale vs. Penn State Saturday!

It was one of the most memorable games in recent Gopher basketball history -- Tubby Smith's squad took down No. 1-ranked Indiana last night in dramatic fashion, and it was followed by an epic court storming by the Maroon and Gold faithful at the Barn, all in front of a national TV audience on ESPN.

GopherSports.com is collecting links, videos, Tweets and more on last night's epic win! Be sure to watch the "super slow-mo" montage we put together above, and check out these as well:

- Of course, you have to watch the highlights from the game first (GopherSports.com): 

- Mbakwe's epic block of Cody Zeller (ESPN):

- TV call of court storming (ESPN):




- A few notable Tweets from last night:

-And finally, one of our favorite photos of the night via ESPN's Mike Tirico on Twitter

Get to Know Maverick: Video Feature

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Watch this video feature on Gopher men's basketball guard Maverick Ahanmisi. The junior and Santa Clarita, Calif. native has provided a spark off the bench for the Gophers in 2012-13, playing in all 26 games (through Feb. 20) and shooting a team-best 42 percent from behind the three-point line.

Through Feb. 20, Ahanmisi is averaging 3.7 points and 9.9 minutes per game. His 16 three-pointers (in 38 attempts) has already set a career high.

Feature originally aired during "Gopher Basketball with Tubby Smith" which can be seen Fridays on Fox Sports North. Check your local listing for exact times and dates.

Sneak Peek: Gophers at #18/18 Ohio State

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On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the Gophers will continue the Big Ten season against Ohio State in Columbus. In preparation for their only meeting with OSU during the regular season, GopherSports.com's Jeff Fett previewed the Buckeyes. 

Head Coach: Thad Matta 

2012-13 Record: 18-7 (8-5) 

Leading Scorers: Deshaun Thomas-20.2 ppg; Lenzelle Smith, Jr.-10.3 ppg; Aaron Craft-9.5 ppg; LaQuinton Ross-7.8 ppg; Sam Thompson-7.0 ppg.      

Leading Rebounders: Deshaun Thomas-6.2 rpg; Lenzelle Smith, Jr.-5.3 rpg; Evan Ravenel-4.6 rpg; Amir Williams-4.2 rpg; Aaron Craft-3.8 rpg. 

Notable wins: Michigan, Washington, Winthrop, Wisconsin 

Notable losses: Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois 

Outlook 

Ohio State is one of those scary young teams no one wants to face this time of year. 

The Buckeyes have only one senior in Evan Ravenel, and are led by junior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and junior power forward Deshaun Thomas. 

Last season, Jared Sullinger and William Buford led this team, but Thomas has stepped up this season and is shooting the lights out, averaging a conference-high 20.2 ppg. Craft is also one of the best defenders in the nation.

Along with Craft and Thomas, the Buckeyes are getting nice contributions this season from their sophomore class of Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott. 

After a non-conference season where they beat respectable teams in Washington and Winthrop, the Buckeyes have taken care of business in the Big Ten this season. They've beat the teams they needed to in Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern, which are near the bottom of the standings, but they've also knocked off conference contenders in Michigan and Wisconsin too. 

Right now, the Buckeyes appear in safe position for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but the schedule still has some roadblocks. Such is life in the Big Ten Conference. 

Trevor Mbakwe: Behind the Scenes

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What is Trevor Mbakwe looking to accomplish during his final year in college basketball? Go inside the mind of this St. Paul native as he talks about coming back from a torn ACL to try and lead Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament.

This video feature originally appeared during "Gopher Basketball with Tubby Smith" Friday nights on Fox Sports North. Check local listings for exact times and channel information.

Sneak Peek: No. 23/24 Gophers vs. Iowa

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The No. 23/24 Gophers picked up a 19-point win against Nebraska to snap a four-game losing streak. They will take on Iowa, which just beat Penn State, at noon on Sunday. GopherSports.com's Jeff Fett previewed the Hawkeyes.

Head Coach: Fran McCaffrey

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Rodney Williams scored 23 points against Nebraska and will look to carry the momentum into Sunday.
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Current Record: 14-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

Last Year's Big Ten Record: 8-10

Top 5 Leading Scorers: Roy Devyn Marble-14.1 ppg; Aaron White-14.0 ppg; Mike Gesell-8.8 ppg; Melsahn Basabe-7.4 ppg; Zach McCabe-5.9 ppg.

Top 5 Leading Rebounders: Aaron White-6.0 rpg; Adam Woodbury-5.3 rpg; Melsahn Basabe-4.5 rpg; Roy Devyn Marble-4.0 rpg; Zach McCabe-3.8 rpg.

Notable Non-Conference Wins: Gardner-Webb, Iowa State, University of Northern Iowa, Western Kentucky

Notable Non-Conference Losses: Wichita State, Virginia Tech

Conference Wins: Northwestern, Wisconsin, Penn State

Conference Losses: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue

Outlook

Second-year head coach Fran McCaffery led the Hawkeyes to a few good wins over a couple of mid-major programs during the non-conference season, and Iowa appeared to be turning the corner thanks to a strong freshman class.

The Hawkeyes brought an 11-2 record into Big Ten play. They have had some struggles against the tough conference competition, but three of their losses have been by three points or fewer.

So far this season, junior Roy Devyn Marble leads the Hawkeye attack. The guard/small forward has been a strong leader for a young team. Sophomore Aaron White has had some strong performances, too. Along with the top scorers, two freshmen in guard Mike Gesell and center Adam Woodbury have Iowa fans believing in this team again.

The Hawkeyes know how to score points. They are averaging 73.0 points per game, just behind the Gophers at fourth in the conference.

Many predicted Iowa to be a sleeper team this season. If they continue to win their most winnable games, and pick up a few victories from ranked teams as well, the Hawkeyes could still finish somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten. A finish in the upper half would be a major accomplishment for this young team.

Austin Hollins Video Feature: Improving Every Day

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Austin Hollins has emerged as one of the Gophers' go-to scorers this season.
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Go behind-the-scenes with Gopher juinor Austin Hollins in this exclusive video feature story on the Tennessee native. The junior guard is having a solid season in 2012-13, averaging 10.9 points and 29 minutes per game.

This feature originally aired during "Gopher Basketball with Tubby Smith" which appears each Friday during Big Ten Season on Fox Sports North. Check your local listings for times and more details.

Hollins scored a career-high 21 points against Michigan earlier this season and also led the way in the Gophers' Jan. 6 victory over Northwestern at Williams Arena, hitting a career-high five three-pointers in just three minutes of play.

Sneak Peek: No. 23/24 Gophers vs. Nebraska

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The Gophers are set for an 8 p.m. tilt against Nebraska on Tuesday. Gophersports.com's Jeff Fett took a look at the Cornhuskers before the two teams' first of two meetings this season.

Head Coach: Tim Miles

Current Record: 11-10, 2-6 Big Ten

Last Year's Big Ten Record: 4-14

Top 5 Leading Scorers: Dylan Talley-13.4 ppg; Ray Gallegos-12.7 ppg; Brandon Ubel-12.1 ppg; Shavon Shields-7.4 ppg ; Andre Almeida-5.9 ppg.

Top 5 Leading Rebounders: Brandon Ubel-7.0 rpg; Dylan Talley-5.5 rpg; Shavon Shields-5.0 rpg; Andre Almeida-3.9 rpg; David Rivers-3.3 rpg.

Notable Non-Conference wins: Wake Forest, USC, Tulane

Notable Non-Conference losses: Creighton, Oregon, Kent State

Conference Wins: Penn State, Northwestern

Conference Losses: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois

Outlook

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The Gophers and Cornhuskers will meet again in March.
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In just its second year playing Big Ten basketball, Nebraska hopes it can make a little noise as the Cornhuskers transition into what they hope will be a contender in years to come.

Tim Miles, who was the head coach at Colorado State last year and took over for the fired Doc Sadler, has a team with only one returning starter in Brandon Ubel. Miles has been making progress on the recruiting trail, but it may take a little while before he sees the Cornhuskers make a move in the Big Ten.

The Cornhuskers lost 73 percent of the team's minutes from last year's squad, meaning a lot of inexperienced players are getting a chance to contribute this year. To take some of that burden, they are relying on a pair of freshmen and a couple of transfers.

Nebraska is off to a 2-6 start in the conference season. While the transition to better basketball may take a little while, the Cornhuskers hope to finish strong during this steppingstone season as they wait for Miles recruits to hit the hardwood.