B1G Tournament Day 1 notes: Pitino, Gophers fighting to stick around
If Richard Pitino is to keep his job at Minnesota, the way to do it is keep winning games.
The Gophers did so Wednesday night, rallying to win an ugly one — and that might be an understatement — by scoring the last 12 points for a 51-46 final against Northwestern. Minnesota, the Big Ten Tournament’s 13 seed, had lost 7 consecutive games entering the tourney. And the fade, after the Gophers had been ranked as high as No. 17 in the AP poll earlier this season, had many questioning whether Pitino could remain on as Minnesota’s head coach.
To his credit, the eighth-year boss hasn’t shied from questions about his job security in recent days, but it wasn’t a topic after the victory. Instead, the focus was on his injury-riddled team — the Gophers are without center Liam Robbins and guard Gabe Kalscheur — and its ability to gut out a victory.
“When you lose in a single-elimination tournament the season’s over,” Pitino said in a Zoom interview with media after the game. “So that’s really what I was talking about (in my messaging). It wasn’t all that deep; I mean it’s March winner go home. You don’t want it to end, you know, so that was really it. It wasn’t all that prophetic by any means.
“And give our guys credit they guarded when they needed to guard. They rebounded the ball when they needed to.”
With the win, Minnesota advances to play No. 5 Ohio State at about 2 p.m. in Lucas Oil Stadium. The Gophers beat the Buckeyes rather easily on Jan. 3 in Williams Arena, a 77-60 victory that won’t have much bearing on Thursday’s matchup. Minnesota won’t be at full strength, although OSU’s current 4-game losing streak might add intrigue.
“We believe we can go on a run and get ourselves back on track to where we were in the beginning of the season, hopefully get an NCAA berth,” Jamal Mashburn Jr. said. “We have the most confidence in ourselves and we’re going to see if we can go get Ohio State.”
Michigan G Eli Brooks doubtful
Michigan hasn’t release an official word on the status of Eli Brooks for Friday’s Big Ten Tournament game, but it seems unlikely that the point guard will be ready to go.
Brooks rolled his ankle vs. Michigan State on Sunday, needing to be carried off the floor by coach Juwan Howard and others. Howard hasn’t updated Brooks’ status since the game, but players said the grad transfer who has been a critical piece to the Wolverines’ success this season didn’t practice Tuesday.
“We’re going to miss him a lot, but we’ve got the guys to step up and help us keep the ship afloat,” freshman Hunter Dickinson told media, per MLive.com.
It’s likely Chaundee Brown will start if Brooks can’t go against either Michigan State or Maryland on Friday.
Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp ‘day-to-day’
The news might be slightly more optimistic for Iowa wing Joe Wieskamp, who rolled his ankle Sunday in a win over Wisconsin.
The Hawkeye players have expressed optimism that Wieskamp could play by Friday, when Iowa opens the tournament against either Penn State or Wisconsin. But Coach Fran McCaffery has been more cagey about the prognosis. On Tuesday, he was asked what more he knew.
“Not much more than I knew the other day,” he said in an interview with Iowa media, per 247Sports. “He was a little bit better yesterday, a little better today. He won’t practice today. So we’ll see. Again, it’s literally day-to-day, so we’ll see how he is today, tomorrow, and go from there.”
Better things ahead?
Nebraska is hoping to put the 2020-21 season as far in the past as possible as quickly as possible.
It was a bizarre one for the Cornhuskers, who had to endure an extended layoff due to a COVID outbreak within the program, then returned to play 14 games in a 30-day span.
“Hopefully we’ll have some normalcy this summer, to be able to work on a lot of things which we were not able to do,” coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “Last year, because of the pandemic and obviously in the middle of the season you get shut down for as long as we did, you know that you’re going to have some lapses like we did when you’re not able to practice. So, a big part of being more consistent is getting on the practice floor and working on things that you need to improve on.”
The Huskers finished only 7-20 in Hoiberg’s second season in Lincoln, with a 3-16 record in conference play. But many of the players who were on the court in the 72-66 loss to Penn State on Wednesday night will return, but more importantly, they’ll see an infusion of talent too; per 247sports, Nebraska has the No. 26 recruiting class in the country (and third in the Big Ten), which includes 5-star guard Bryce McGowens.
“We’re not going to have a whole new team next year we got to reintroduce a system or introduce a system, and pretty much start from scratch, which is what we’ve done the first two years,” Hoiberg said. “We have a foundation in place, and that’s huge.”
Fear the Lions?
Although Penn State was up and down all year, it ended the season on a high note, with wins against Minnesota and Maryland. And Wednesday in the Big Ten Tournament opener, the 11 seed rallied to beat Nebraska.
Few likely desire to play the pesky Nittany Lions right now. The sixth-seed Badgers will get the opportunity at about 9 p.m. Thursday. The teams played back-to-back earlier this season, with PSU winning at home before losing on the road two days later.
“We believe we could beat any team in this conference,” Jamari Wheeler said after PSU had come back from down 14 at the half to beat Nebraska 72-66. “So, just keep that going. But believe in each (other), and just play Penn State basketball for 40 minutes and we’re like this looks at the end.”