Indiana has become accustom to being the team with the biggest bullseye on its back as the No. 1 ranked squad for much of the season, but the Hoosiers also are starting to get used to being upset when they are top dog, as fell from their lofty perch once again, this time to an unranked conference rival.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers – considered by most experts to be a bubble team – convinced many skeptics of their worthiness for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament by beating the No. 1 team in the land on Tuesday night by a score of 77-73. The Gophers couldn’t match the Hoosiers in talent, but they out hustled one of the nation’s best teams and showed plenty of determination in what will certainly be a huge resume boosting win.
Trevor Mbakwe led the way for the Gophers with 21 points and 12 rebounds on a night where Minnesota dominated the glass and dominated the paint with 23 offensive rebounds, many of them belonging to Mbakwe.
“We did need to play with a sense of urgency, play with a little edge,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said, via ESPN.com. “I think Trevor set that tone for us.”
“We weren’t physical enough on the glass. That’s the bottom line,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said.
Indiana’s man in the middle, Cody Zeller, was held to just nine points on the night and turned the ball over four times. The Gophers’ defense swarmed and flustered Zeller, but coach Crean is confident that he’ll bounce back with a strong performance in the team’s next outing.
“Cody’s certainly capable of a lot,” Crean said, “and I think he’ll bounce back just fine.”
The Hoosiers, who dropped to 24-4 on the season, shouldn’t have too much to worry about either. Yes, the loss cost them the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll, but they still have a one-game lead in the Big Ten Conference and will likely land a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in their final three games.
Meanwhile, the Gophers may have punched their ticket to tourney town with the win, but at 19-9 some will still consider Minnesota to be a bubble team. They don’t have any more ranked opponents on their final three-game schedule, but if they are able to win at least two of those games, it would be hard for pollsters to keep them out of the Big Dance.
So, now that Indiana has fallen, who will be No. 1 next week?
Obviously, there are still a few games this weekend that will have a large impact, but at the moment, it appears that the Gonzaga Bulldogs may jump up to the No. 1 spot for the first time in school history. Although, there is also a fairly good chance the Bulldogs could get leapfrogged by the Duke Blue Devils, who are currently in third position and who have a huge meeting with #5 Miami on Saturday. A win for Duke in that game could secure the top ranking for it.
We’ll have to see how the final few games play out, as well as the conference tournaments, but one thing we have learned this season is that no one is safe. There hasn’t been a real dominant team we can hang our hat on to win it all, but maybe that team will emerge in the coming weeks. Until then, be cautious with your future bets and look for the teams that are starting to get hot heading into March Madness.