Undefeated Gophers Deserve Packed Barn vs #19 Spartans
Everyone expected the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team to lose a lot more games in 2021-22 than they won. PJ Fleck called it “Year Zero” in his first season but Ben Johnson didn’t have to give his rookie year a nickname. Not after all but one player from last season’s roster bailed out of Dinkytown following Richard Pitino’s firing,
That left Johnson with nothing but the transfer portal to fill his new maroon and gold roster. But without any expectations or resume to sell prospective transfers, the Gophers were left with small school veterans who overachieved at their first stop.
So fans were ready to give Ben a rookie pass, like most fanbases, even if individual games and/or the final record were awful. Oh, and this was all before two of their best players, Parker Fox and (Pitino’s only holdover) Isaiah Ihnen, suffered season-ending injuries in the offseason.
It’s gonna be ugly this year for Gopher MBB fans. Be ready. If you know it’s coming, the actual results should be easier to stomach. https://t.co/GfHRzxBf9y— Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) September 8, 2021
Fast Forward to Undefeated
But then, the season started. And guess what? All the Minnesota Gophers do is continue to win games. Both at The Barn and away from it. Early on, they beat Princeton and Western Kentucky, two teams picked to finish high in their respective non-power-5 conferences.
After cleaning up on a couple of less than lesser non-conference opponents following that Asheville Championship run, the Gophers were confronted with the ACC/B1G Challenge. Their opponent was Pittsburgh, a team expected to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference come season’s end. Still, they squeaked out another victory.
Next up was their stiffest competition yet, a middle of the road SEC team, Mississippi State. Another win. Sure, they took it down to the wire but overall, it was probably their best performance yet. Minnesota lead wire-to-wire and had control of that entire game. The final score does not project reality to someone who didn’t watch.
But no matter, the victory meant that Ben Johnson’s first-year Minnesota Gophers were 7-0 entering early Big Ten play, a feat not even the biggest optimist foresaw.
#Gophers receive 7 Top 25 votes in this week's Coaches Poll. Unreal start to this season for Ben Johnson. The team looked like they were legit having fun yesterday.— Zips (@zipsofakron) December 6, 2021
Pack the Barn
And that brings us to Wednesday evening (8 PM CT), when the Gophers will welcome the Michigan State Spartans to Williams Arena for the first of two early Big Ten games. And by the end of the week, we will know a lot more about what kind of team Ben Johnson really has for this stretch run of 2021-22.
Because after their matchup vs the Spartans, they’ll follow them back to Michigan to face their in-state rival, the Michigan Wolverines, who entered the season ranked in the top-10 nationwide, but have since fallen out of the top-25 after losses to Seton Hall, Arizona and North Carolina.
In other words, we cannot discount how successful this early season has been for the Golden Gophers men’s basketball team. And while we still aren’t sure what will come of Ben Johnson’s rookie campaign, we should celebrate that early success later this week.
Gopher basketball fans should pack The Barn and show support for their new coach. Make a difference. Show these new Minnesota basketball players what playing in a full William’s Arena is really like. Help make life difficult for the Spartans.
And who knows, maybe you’ll leave cheering for an 8-0 basketball team… I promise, nobody at the University of Minnesota contacted me before writing this blog.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan