Can 2023-24 Minnesota Gophers Make the NCAA Tournament?

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team is 4-1 and should be 5-0, had they not flushed a 20 point lead down the toilet in the last 10 minutes of an eventual loss vs Missouri.

The Minnesota Gophers men are legit

But no matter the record, one thing has become very clear early on in the 2023-24 Gophers season. This is far and away the best team that 3rd year head coach, Ben Johnson, has rostered in Dinkytown. Yes, they lost to the only power 5 team they’ve played so far, but they were the better team for nearly that entire game.

Related: Gophers Ink Their Future Point Guard Isaac Asuma on National Signing Day

The 2023-24 Gophers run nine or ten players deep and they have high-end talent in the front and backcourt. Do-it-all big man, Dawson Garcia (6-11, 230 lbs) is Minnesota’s best player and his numbers show it.

The Prior Lake native and UNC transfer is averaging nearly double the points and rebounds of anyone else on roster. It helps that he gets a lot more minutes than everyone else, too.

1F/CDawson Garcia6-115533.2.475.5433.0.2672.
2G/FCam Christie6-74022.0.423.2224.3.5290.
3FJoshua Ola-Joseph6-95521.2.621.6821.4.4290.
4FIsaiah Ihnen6-95423.6.531.7504.0.4001.
5PGElijah Hawkins5-115524.8.313.3332.8.2861.
6GMike Mitchell6-25024.6.368.3336.4.3750.
7GBraeden Carrington6-45526.4.387.6923.6.1671.
8F/CPharrel Payne6-94114.8.619.6190.
9FParker Fox6-85010.8.857.8570.
10FKadyn Betts6-8305.0.143.5001.7.0000.
11CJack Wilson6-11207.0.500.5000.
Provided by CBB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 11/22/2023.

Cam Christie might be one of the best freshman in the Big Ten. The Illinois kid is tied for 2nd on the team in points per game, with 9.8 and he’s shooting over 50% from beyond the arc.

At 6-7, he can bring the ball up the court and might already be the best on the team at creating his own shot off the dribble. Even more impressive, he’s an elite defender, which this Gophers team has a few of.

Only three of Minnesota’s ten contributors this season are under 6 ft, 6 in tall. They bring length, size and skill that we haven’t seen in The Barn since Richard Pitino’s tourney teams.

Related: Gophers MBB Surprisingly Impressive to Start Season

Can Minnesota Gophers make NCAA Tournament?

Ben Johnson may not need the NCAA Tournament to save his job, but they have to show vast improvement (they will) and an ability to play competitively night in and night out in the Big Ten, which looks to be in a down year.

In the latest NCAA men’s basketball rankings, only two Big Ten teams made both the AP and Coaches Poll top-25. Purdue was #2 and Michigan State is in the 20’s. Illinois received votes in the AP and ranked #22 in the Coaches, Michigan received 10 votes in the AP and Iowa grabbed one vote in the Coaches.

The only rankings/ratings that matter these days are the NET, which won’t release for another week or so. We’ll know a lot more about where the Gophers rank compared to other teams when those drop.

But if you watch college basketball regularly, especially Minnesota teams of recent past, you’ll notice pretty quickly that this team is different. The first thing you’ll notice… they can score, unlike the first two iterations of Johnson’s Gophers, neither of which ranked in the top-285 teams in the country in points scored.

That doesn’t mean I expect them to compete for a Big Ten crown. I do, however, expect them to play .500 basketball in a conference that doesn’t have as many elite teams as it usually does. In most years, that would be an easy ticket to the dance. In a down year, it should still be enough to get them in.

If nothing else, they’ll be a bubble team that has something to play for all season. Would that mean Ben Johnson keeps his job? Probably, but I’m optimistic, by nature. So jump on the bandwagon with me or don’t, but I believe this team makes the field of 64, come March, meaning Ben definitely sticks around.

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