No Respect in Polls/Rankings for Gophers MBB

PHOTO: ANDY CLAYTON-KING – ASSOCIATED PRESS

The early Big Ten season was supposed to be a measuring stick for the new Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball team. Two games vs conference powers like Michigan State and Michigan was supposed to be a big prove-it type stretch for rookie head coach Ben Johnson and a turned over Gophers team that had looked much better than expected to start 2021-22.

So when they hung with #19 Michigan State last week at The Barn, ultimately losing 67-75, then followed that up on Saturday with a 75-65 victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor, many fans (myself included) thought the 9-1 Gophers had passed a pretty significant test.

But then the AP and USA Today top-25 polls came out on Monday and, outside of a few votes, Minnesota was nowhere to be found. Michigan State, on the other hand, jumped up seven spots in the AP and eight spots in the USA Today. Sparty now ranks #12 in both polls thanks to wins over the Gophers and 5-5 (0-2) Penn State.

The Minnesota Gophers went from 0 AP Poll votes last week, to 3 votes on Monday. Michigan, the 6-4 Big Ten team that Minnesota defeated last week, got 8 votes. You need north of 150 votes to have any chance of cracking the top-25. The Gophers were already getting a little love last week (Dec. 6) in the USA Today Coaches Poll, receiving 7 votes. The problem? They got the same exact amount this week, as if those games vs the Spartans and Wolverines meant nothing.

Hurt by Victory

So the AP and Coaches Polls only come out once per week. Other ranking systems and polls that the college basketball world trusts update daily. Ben Johnson’s Gophers are seeing more of the same disrespect with those. In fact, all of the daily updated polls people care about actually dropped Minnesota down following their win on Tuesday night over Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

The 9-1 Islanders came to The Barn and the Gophers jumped on them right from the tip, taking a 20-point lead into halftime. It looked like a route in the making, even midway through the second half. But Minnesota committed 28 total turnovers, many of which came in the second half, allowing TAMU-CC to cut the lead to single digits at the finish line.

The maroon and gold had been one of the best offenses in the country in the turnover department, averaging just 7.8 per game through nine games. But coughing up the basketball was the obvious reason they couldn’t put the Islanders away last night. Still, the final score of 79-71 projected a game that was much closer than what actually unfolded in reality, which was a matchup that Minnesota mostly dominated.

A win is (not just) a win

So let’s get back to the daily updated polls and rankings mentioned above. They hated Tuesday’s win. The NET Rankings, the system recently created by the NCAA to help the Tournament Committee make their March selections, dropped Minnesota from #35 to #36 after the victory. If you feel slighted by that, the rest of this blog won’t make you any happier.

All three of the other most-widely used polls and ranking systems also dropped the Gophers after their win over Texas A&M-CC yesterday. The Massey rankings dropped them from at #30 to #33. KenPom and ESPN BPI must have forgotten that Minnesota has a basketball team, ranking them #69 and #66 respectively before the win and dropping them down to #74 and #70 after.

I know that other teams have played more difficult schedules than what the Gophers have, but this is no longer an untested team. The four games they played before Tuesday were against ACC, SEC and Big Ten competition. Three of them, Michigan St., Michigan and Mississippi St. are NCAA Tournament caliber. They beat two of them, both of which rank ahead of the Gophers in some of the polls above.

It won’t matter.

At the end of the year, where the Minnesota Gophers ranked in the middle of December won’t matter. This team plays in the deepest conference in the nation. When Big Ten play resumes at the beginning of the new year, there will be plenty of good competition to go around.

If Ben Johnson and his new squad can win most of their games at Williams Arena and beat struggling teams on the road, they’ll set themselves up to dance when it’s all over. And dancing in March is something NOBODY would’ve tried selling you a month ago.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan