Gophers Waiting on NIT?

Tubby Smith

The Gophers' track record probably won't allow them to get into the NCAA tournament, but the NIT should be a possibility.

Minnesota doesn't have the resume necessary to get into the NCAA tournament. Even with wins over Ohio State and Indiana in recent weeks, it's not enough to bust the tourney bubble.

The Gophers are probably headed to the NIT. Minnesota has asked the NCAA to invite them to the NIT if they don't make the NCAAs. With an already-infamous buzzer-beater — Blake Hoffarber's game winner over Indiana is already a hit on YouTube — there's also a good chance that Minnesota will have a chance to host a game when the NIT begins Tuesday.

If for some reason Minnesota doesn't get into the NIT (better teams didn't make it last season), they'll have to try out the CBI, the newest postseason tournament.

Even if the Gophers only make the NIT, it can be considered an accomplishment. And if for some reason Kentucky doesn't make the NCAAs, there's a chance that Tubby Smith might meet his old team at some point during the postseason. And that makes for good TV.

And he knows all about that after watching Hoffarber's infamous shot in the Big Ten tourney.

ILLINOIS 54, MINNESOTA 50: There was magic in the air when Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber hit a turnaround jumper with 1.5 seconds on the clock to give the Gophers an upset win over Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. But the thriller didn't repeat itself Saturday when Minnesota faced Illinois, a team that's now beaten the Gophers 20 times in a row.

The Illini didn't pull away the way they did in past games against Minnesota. But they did make more clutch plays down the stretch, while Minnesota struggled with foul trouble, poor shooting and exhaustion from the emotional high of their improbable win over Indiana.

NOTES

  • Minnesota slipped past Indiana 59-58 in the quarterfinals Friday. Travis Bush threw a 75-foot pass to Blake Hoffarber, who turned around and hit the shot with 1.5 seconds left. The former ESPY award winner repeated the antics that earned him the honor — he hit a shot from the seat of his pants in high school to send his team into overtime during the state playoffs in 2005.

    Hoffarber's shot concluded a series of incredulous events. D.J. White was fouled twice and shot four free throws in the game's final 10 seconds. He only hit one but it was enough to give Indiana a 58-57 lead, as thousands of Hoosiers fans that'd traveled to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis from Bloomington, Ind., cheered them on.

    Their victory seemed almost a given, based on their two wins against Minnesota earlier this season. But Minnesota stepped up to shockingly steal a 59-58 victory. The win puts them in the middle of a hotly debated NCAA tourney bubble conversation.

  • Hoffarber's shot to beat Indiana March 14 was only one of many clutch plays he's made all season. The freshman led the team in scoring against Florida State Nov. 27. He's shooting better than 45 percent from the 3-point line.

  • C Spencer Tollackson sat out against Indiana on Friday. His left ankle sprain kept him out of most of the team's close win over Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. But the team still played well without him. He believes he'll be ready to go against Illinois.

  • G Kevin Payton returned to the starting lineup against Illinois March 8, after seeing limited playing time throughout the season. Payton began the year as the team's starting point guard. But quickly lost the role and played sparingly throughout the season.

  • G Blake Hoffarber's shot to beat Indiana Friday is already a classic. But in his encore performance Saturday, he scored just three points against Illinois.

  • C Spencer Tollackson sat out against Indiana Friday with a bad ankle. But his gutsy performance in the Big Ten semifinals against Illinois was classic. He scored five points and kept Minnesota in the game early, while he was in obvious pain.

  • After a strong week, Dan Coleman was held to just six points against Illinois in the semifinals of the Big Ten tourney. He got into foul trouble against Indiana and Illinois, in part because of Tollackson's absence. If Tollackson's not healthy enough to play, teams will go at Coleman and put him in the same situation.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie, G Kevin Payton. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber; F Damian Johnson.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "When Blake Hoffarber is your leading scorer, you've got issues." — Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, after his team lost its 19th straight game against Illinois. The Illini grabbed 45 rebounds compared to Minnesota's 19.

    GAME REVIEW:

    Illinois 67, Minnesota 58

    Minnesota 55, Northwestern 52 (Big Ten tournament first round)

    Minnesota 59, Indiana 58 (Big Ten tournament quarterfinal)

    Illinois 54, Minnesota 50 (Big Ten tournament semifinal)

    GAME PREVIEW:

    Awaiting potential postseason tournament invite.

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