Busting Brackets

Minnesota Basketball: Why Golden Gophers could make some noise in March

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images /

Every year there are under the radar teams that surprise in March. Minnesota Basketball could very well be one of those teams this season.

Even big-time college basketball fans likely haven’t heard much about Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are only 19-11 overall, only 7th in the Big 10, and only 46th in KenPom. Even so, we’re currently projecting Minnesota as an 11-seed, so they’re likely to get a chance to make something happen in March. Here are five reasons Minnesota could surprise in the NCAA Tournament.

(All statistics used in this article were found via Haslametrics and KenPom and are up to date through the games completed on Mar 9.).

1. Momentum

Minnesota is currently 40th in Haslametrics in positive momentum. After losing 6/7 games, their last two results have included a 62-50 road win over Northwestern and most impressively, a 73-69 home win over Purdue. If Minnesota can finish off the regular season strong, they’ll be trending up as they enter the tournament.

2. Decent Performance Against Top Teams

Despite a 9-10 Big Ten record, Minnesota has actually performed okay against the top tier of the conference: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland. Although only 2-6 overall against these teams, I think there have been enough close games to find the results fairly encouraging.

Michigan: Only lost by 2 to on the road then fell by 9 at home.

Michigan State: Lost by 24 on the road

Wisconsin: Won by 7 on the road, lost by 5 at home

Purdue: lost by 10 on the road, won by 5 at home

Maryland: lost by 15 at home

3. Strengths

Minnesota has some solid strengths that it could capitalize on in the right matchup. The Golden Gophers are 47th in offensive rebounding percentage per KenPom and 34th in defensive 3-point attempt rate, indicating they defend the three pretty well. But arguably their #1 strength is getting to the foul line, which they are 10th in the country at. This came in handy in Minnesota’s recent upset over Purdue, in which they got to the line a lot and made 27-36 free throws (75%). If Minnesota faces a team that it can get to the line against, it has a chance to make things very difficult.

4. Jordan Murphy

Murphy came into last season with a decent amount of hype, but as Minnesota began to struggle, the forward fell under the radar as well. Still Murphy averaged 16.8 points per game on 52.5% shooting, 11.3 rebounds  and had the 47th highest offensive rebounding percentage in the country per KenPom. This season has been pretty good as well, as Murphy is averaging 14.5 points per game on 48.6% shooting, 11.7 rebounds and the 63rd best offensive rebounding percentage. The senior is capable of posting a double-double on any given night. At an undersized 6-7, however, some matchups are better for him than others.

5. Amir Coffey

The junior is a talented scorer that’s had an up-and-down season. He’s averaging 15 points per game, shooting 48.4% from two and 32.0% from three. The good thing for Minnesota, however, is that Coffey’s two best games of the season have arguably come in the last two games against Northwestern and Purdue. The junior dropped 31 and 32 points respectively, shooting a combined 14-24 (58.3%) from two, 6-10 from three, and 17-23 (73.9%) from the line.

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At 6-8, Coffey has the size and athleticism to play against anyone. If he stays hot, he’s capable of being a go-to scorer that could lead Minnesota to a tournament victory.