Friday, March 12, 2010

Hoopsters Score Great Win, Live to Fight Another Day

The Gopher basketball team's quest to stay out of the NIT continued Friday night as it played one of its better games of a frustrating up-and-down season in defeating Michigan State 72-67 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

Devoe Joseph rebounded from a scoreless first half to end the game with 17 points. Blake Hoffarber had 14 points, highlighted by 4-9 three-point shooting, and Colton Iverson had 12 points off the bench. The Gophers shot a pedestrian 39% from the floor, but held State to 41% and forced 14 turnovers. The Gophs even withstood a MSU 7-0 run at the end of regulation to force OT. In a game reminiscent of the teams' earlier matchup in Minneapolis, the Gophers got the better of this one, thanks to some clutch OT play from Joseph and Lawrence Westbrook.

The Gophers now have 20 victories on the season and will face second-seeded Purdue in the semifinals Saturday afternoon. Whether or not the victory over Michigan State is enough to catapult the Gophers into the NCAA Tournament is debatable. The team's resume is getting stronger with every victory. The team has reached 20 victories on the season and now features solid victories against Butler, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and now Michigan State. Each of those teams would likely qualify for the big dance if it started today. However, two losses to Michigan will hurt this team, as well as the inability to close out sure victories at home against Michigan State and Purdue during the regular season. If but one of those losses would have turned around, the Gophers would already be in.

My bet is that the Gophers need to beat Purdue to get in. I do not feel like they need to win the Big Ten Tourney to get an invite. A victory over a top-five team like Purdue should be enough.

Purdue is beatable and they struggled to hold off Northwestern in their quarterfinal matchup on Friday. The Gophers have proven they can play with the Boilers this season and Purdue is definitely hurting without guard Robbie Hummel. If the Gophers want to erase some of the disappointment of an inconsistent season, they need to defeat the Boilermakers on Saturday.

Remember, this is where most observers thought this team should have been all season long.

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