Reusse: For 24 years, Gophers basketball has eaten Wisconsin's dust

Reusse: For 24 years, Gophers basketball has eaten Wisconsin’s dust

The Gophers went to the Final Four in 1997, and all the vacancies imaginable will never convince otherwise the 15-20,000 Minnesota fans who were in San Antonio to squirm and shout for Bobby Jackson and Co. as they won the Midwest Regional.

Clem Haskins’ warriors won the Big Ten at 16-2 that season. Dick Bennett had a good second season at Wisconsin – 11-7 in conference play and his first NCAA Division I tournament appearance.

The departures of Jackson, center John Thomas and other issues sent the Gophers careening to 6-10 in the Big Ten in 1997-98. They managed to squeeze into the NIT with a 15-15 record, and then won the consolation tournament by beating Penn State in an all-Big Ten final.

Wisconsin had fallen to a 3-13 conference record in 1998. And that is a notable event in the Gophers-Badgers rivalry, for it is the last time Wisconsin failed to finish ahead of Minnesota in the Big Ten standings.

Twenty-four seasons in a row… the Gophers have been looking up at Wisconsin in men’s basketball.

The Badgers will be making their 22nd NCAA appearance in that time next week. The Gophers are unlikely to be making NCAA appearance no. 8 in that same stretch, unless Luke Loewe can get torrid and become the secret weapon to carry our outfit to five wins in five days in the Big Ten tournament.

The Badgers have won 34 NCAA tournament games and reached three Final Fours in this 24-year streak. The Gophers have won two NCAA games in that time.

Wisconsin did manage to have a wretched 7-11 finish in the Big Ten in 2017-18, Greg Gard’s third season as head coach, but Richard Pitino guided the Gophers to 4-14.

Last Sunday, the Badgers lost Johnny Davis, expected to be a unanimous All-America selection, to an ankle injury and blew an outright Big Ten title with a 74-73 home loss to Nebraska.

The 15-5 record gave Wisconsin a first-place tie with Illinois in a season in which both those teams benefited from Purdue’s underachieving.

Wisconsin had backed into the 2021 NCAA tournament with a 10-10 Big Ten record, won a first-round game to send off North Carolina coach Roy Williams, but had the look of a program taking a downward turn.

Way back in 1969, Gus Young had moved from promotions to interim coach for the talented, volatile roster of the ABA’s Minnesota Pipers. Discordant voices on the bench were easy to hear, what with the Pipers’ tiny crowds at Met Center.

Young went into a postgame locker room one night, then came quickly out and told a couple of waiting reporters: “You can’t go in there. There’s dissension in there. ”

And that seemed to be the case with Gard’s program.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this summer on audio recordings with Badgers seniors blasting Gard. One season earlier, leading scorer Kobe King had jumped ship in midseason.

The Big Ten media took note and forecast a 10th-place finish for Wisconsin in the preseason poll.

On Tuesday, Gard was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and Davis Player of the Year (of course). In contrast, the Gophers, tied for 13th at 4-14 and seeded 14th, were getting ready to go into Wednesday’s first-day punishment with Penn State as three-point underdogs.

New coach Ben Johnson and his staff squeezed every bead of sweat from a collection of transfers from lower-level Division I programs, which doesn’t change this:

The Gophers at this moment are at the bottom of the sub-basement that always can be found in a 14-team Big Ten.

Anyone watching the Gophers on the Big Ten Network and other outlets heard this nonsense when Johnson’s patchwork looked competitive:

“The Gophers found players that fit their system. ”

Actually, they convinced the talented Jamison Battle to come home from George Washington, got Payton Willis to transfer back, lobbied beat-up Eric Curry to return as an undersized center in a league of top big men, and took what other players they could get .

The recruiting class for 2022-23 features three incoming Minnesotans and currently rates No. 9 in the Big Ten.

The current Badgers starting lineup has three Minnesotans: Steven Crowl, Tyler Wahl and fifth-year senior Brad Davison.

Great development took place for all three, which was unlikely to be the case if they had been signed and coached by Pitino.

What we’ll start finding out with Pharrel Payne, Josh Ola-Joseph and Braeden Carrington next season is if Minnesota talent can be developed as well here as has been the case at Wisconsin, first with Bo Ryan and now Gard.

Come on, Ben. Twenty-four years. Isn’t it time to stop eating Bucky’s dust?

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