Gophers on the brink

Richard Pitino // Steve Floyd

When the NCAA Men’s Final Four is in your home city, it’s obviously important to be in contention. For Coach Richard Pitino, his Gopher team has been competitive with a few impressive wins over top 30 teams along the way like Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Gophers are 16-8 overall and 6-7 in the conference. They have slipped to eighth place in the rugged Big Ten Conference. Twenty wins should get the job done; that means going 5-2 or 4-3.

But with seven games left in the Big Ten, the Gophers have suddenly hit a wall with three straight losses to Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Pitino has only once had a team that he’s taken to the NCAA, and this is his sixth year as Gophers head coach. With Nebraska, Indiana, number-seven Michigan and Rutgers next, the Gophers need to get on a roll fast.

The Big Ten tournament starts on March 13 in Chicago at the United Center. Obviously, winning the tournament grabs the Big Ten Conference automatic bid to the NCAA. That is not likely to happen, although it could.

Senior forward Jordan Murphy ranks number one in school history in career double doubles. His leadership and solid play down the stretch will be critical. This is a talented young group of Gophers, but lately their confidence and ability to consistently make three-point shots has abandoned them as a group.

So take a deep breath, fellas. You’ve come a long way. It’s time to pick it up. The NCAA Final Four will be played less than two miles from your Minneapolis campus at U.S. Bank Stadium. All it takes is an at-large bid — that’s four or five wins — and you’re in and the countdown begins.