Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gophers To Play For Big Ten Tourney Title

The Gophers played their finest game of the season in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday, throttling #6 Purdue 69-42 in a game which didn't even seem that close. With three wins in three days, the Gophers qualified for the title game of the tournament for the first time in school history and may have cemented their bid for the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers scored the game's first seven points and then turned a 9-4 lead into a 26-4 margin as the Boilermakers were held scoreless for an incredible 11:26. The halftime score of 37-11 reflected total domination by the Gophers, who held Purdue to an ice-cold 18% shooting percentage at the half, while shooting nearly 60% on their own. The Gophers cooled in the second half, but the Boilermakers never got any closer than 18 points.

Ralph Sampson III led the Gophers with 13 points. Colton Iverson continued his solid play in the Big Ten Tourney with 11 points off the bench, and Devoe Joseph added 10 points of his own. Purdue couldn't get anything going all day long, shooting 2-14 from three-point land, and emptying its bench midway through the second half.

So, the Gophers will now face Ohio State for the tournament championship Sunday afternoon. The two teams split games this season with each winning in convincing fashion on its home court. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but Ohio State's ticket is already punched. One has to believe the Gophers punched their own ticket as well with the victory on Saturday. The win gave them 21 victories on the season, and added a quality win to an already impressive resume which includes victories over Butler, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan State. That should be enough to get in, but we'll have to see what the selection committee has to say on Sunday evening. ESPN's barcketologist Joe Lunardi had the Gophers as the "first team out" Saturday morning prior to the win against Purdue, so their case was only helped by the victory. A loss to Ohio State on Sunday should not damper the chances.

The prediction here is that the Gophers are in at a 12 or 13 seed. A Big Ten Tournament championship would be a nice cap to a great weekend of basketball for Tubby Smith's team, which has struggled for consistency all season long. They sure picked a nice time to get its act together, however. 

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