Hearing the words "the Gophers will take the floor in early April playing for a tournament championship" certainly brings back memories of 1997 (which according to NCAA lore didn't happen). The fact that the tournament being discussed is the NIT and not the big dance is certainly a letdown for some, but for others including first year head coach Richard Pitino it is progress.
Certainly the Gophers cupboard wasn't exactly bare as Andre and Austin Hollins returned, but with a pair of underutilized big men and a couple of unknown transfers, Pitino and his squad have picked up 23 wins while constructing a team with duct tape and paperclips.
DeAndre Matheiu has played good basketball and has found his way in a rough Big 10. Joey King came home and has had moments of great basketball and others where it seemed as though he forgot how to play. All told, the Gophers and Pitino should feel good about playing in the NIT title game tonight against SMU. Any additional basketball is a good thing for the four returning starters next season and it certainly doesn't hurt from a recruiting perspective.
Pitino's dad Rick will once again have the best seat in the house at Madison Square Garden when his son matches up with another coaching Hall of Famer in Larry Brown. He will watch his son close out the best overall record (24-13) in Gopher mens basketball history and the best first season of any current Big 10 coach.
First Year Big 10 Coaching Records:
Richard Pitino- 2013-14- 24-13*
John Groce- 2012-13- 23-13
Thad Mata- 2004-05- 20-13
Bo Ryan- 2001-02- 19-13
Tom Izzo- 1995-96- 16-16
Tim Miles- 2012-13- 15-18
Chris Collins- 2013-14- 14-18
Pat Chambers- 2011-12- 12-20
Fran McCaffery- 2010-11- 11-20
John Beilein- 2007-08- 10-22
Matt Painter- 2006-07- 9-19
Tom Crean- 2008-09- 6-25
After the Gophers defeated Florida State, the Richard Pitino sat down for a burger with his dad Rick to discuss the NIT championship game against SMU. One wonders if he will repeat that after the title tilt to discuss the Gophers next opponent.
The Gophers open the 2014-2015 season against Louisville on November 14.