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Road to Selection Sunday Part 3 of 3: It's Time for Gophers To Make More News On Court Than Off

11/02/2012, 8:15am CDT
By SelectionSunday

Mo Walker, a Gophers fan favorite, is back and ready to contribute for the first time in about 22 months.

DINKYTOWN, MN --  With the recent off-court developments surrounding first Trevor Mbakwe and then assistant coach Saul Smith, the start of the college basketball season can't come soon enough for the Gopher basketball program. And their fans, too.
The time has arrived for the Gophers to start making more news on the court than they do off it. The Gophers appear to have the goods to compete for a top-4 finish in the Big Ten Conference (provided there's no more court-blotter news), and the expectation here is 2012-13 should be the Gophers' best season since the 1997 "I-saw-it-but-it-didn't-happen" Big Ten championship/Final Four campaign.

No, I don't think this Gopher squad is "Final Four good"; I don't see a stone-cold, clutch assassin like Bobby Jackson on the roster. However, I have no problem saying this should be Tubby Smith's best team, one with the potential (a dangerous word, I know) to inflict damage in both the Big Ten (12-6/11-7ish) and the NCAA Tournament (a trip to the second weekend). That's the bar I'm putting in front of this year's Gopher squad, and I can't wait to find out if the Maroon & Gold can reach those heights. This team absolutely should not be flirting with the bubble -- a Gopher tradition seemingly passed down from Clem, to Dan, and now Tubby -- when Selection Sunday (March 17) rolls around.
So with another college basketball season on our front doorstep, we roll out Part 3 of Gopher Hole's 2012-13 Road to Selection Sunday debut. For the series finale we'll make a few predictions, as well as trot out our annual preseason "Field of 68" projection. To borrow the opening words from college basketball's anthem, One Shining Moment, "The ball is tipped. ..."
Puttin' On My Prognostication Cap
1. The Gophers will:
A. Finish 1-2 in the Bahamas;
B. Go 10-3 during nonconference play;
C. Finish 11-7 (5th or 6th) in the B1G;
D. Be 21-10 heading to Chicago for the B1G Tournament; and
E. Depending on how they finish at the BTT, be a #5, #6, or #7 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
2. Best non-BCS conference? The Atlantic 10, and it's not even close. With the addition of Butler and VCU, we might as well start calling the A-10 a power league.
3. Most likely non-BCS program to crack the Final Four? Gonzaga. This program is just too darn, consistently good. ... it's gonna' happen someday. Why not now?
4. Michigan State sophomore wing Branden Dawson will be a superstar much sooner rather than later.
5. Louisville and Duke will get most of the pre-Battle 4 Atlantis attention, but it'll be Mizzou cutting down the nets in the Bahamas.
6. On multiple occasions, Dick Vitale will cause me to consider throwing a tennis shoe at my television. In most instances it will involve his incestuous man-crush on Duke.
7. No offense to Christian Ponder (well done, young man), but I predict Samantha Steele will not make me forget Erin Andrews' absence from ESPN. I'll miss Doug Gottlieb's excellent though sometimes too brash analysis, too.
8. Though all three are capable, Rodney Williams -- not Andre Hollins or Trevor Mbakwe -- will be the Gopher most likely to garner the highest postseason conference honors (2nd-team All-B1G?).
9. The SEC, in addition to the Big Ten, will send more teams to the Sweet 16 than the Big East. 
10. 1st-Team All B1G? Trey Burke (Michigan), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Cody Zeller (Indiana), Drew Crawford (Northwestern), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State) -- Can't believe I just excluded Ohio State PG Aaron Craft -- my favorite non-Gopher in the Big Ten -- but I couldn't justify putting two players from a non-title winning squad on the 1st team. Now if the Buckeyes win the Big Ten regular season, that's another story.
11. B1G Coach of the Year? Fran McCaffery (Iowa). I'm willing to forgive Fran for his pathetic nonconference schedule.
12. B1G Newcomer of the Year? Gary Harris (Michigan State). He already reminds me of former Spartan guard Charlie Bell, and he wears the same number (#14).
13. B1G Player of the Year? Cody Zeller (Indiana). And something tells me he'll stick around at least for 2013-14.
14. Seven is the more likely number, but don't be shocked if the Big Ten nabs an all-time (conference) best 8 NCAA tourney bids.
15. One-bid league most likely to make a splash in the NCAA Tournament? Let's go with the Patriot League, which boasts Bucknell and Lehigh as potential bracket busters.
16. Coach most likely to get fired? Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest). His two years in Winston-Salem have been nothing short of a a disaster, including a 5-27 ACC mark.
17. The Final Four and a national champion? Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State, and Missouri -- Not since Sparty in 2000 has the B1G won a national championship, but that streak finally ends in Atlanta. Tom "The Pacing & Clapping Maniac" Crean brings IU all the way back to its glory days, and for good measure Crean might defeat his mentor (Tom Izzo) along the way. Note, last year I had two of the Final Four correct (Kansas & Ohio State), but missed on the other two semifinalists (Elite 8 squads North Carolina & Syracuse) and the national champ (North Carolina).
We conclude our 2012-13 RTSS debut with a NCAA Tournament "Field of 68" projection. Last year we pegged 40 of 68 (58.8%) correctly.
"FIELD OF 68" PROJECTION (Nov. 2, 2012)
America East (1): Stony Brook
ACC (5): Duke, Florida State, Miami-Florida, North Carolina, NC State
Atlantic Sun (1): Mercer
Atlantic 10 (4): Saint Joseph's, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Big East (7): Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, USF 
Big Sky (1): Montana
Big South (1): Coastal Carolina
B1G (7): Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Big 12 (6): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, West Virginia
Big West (1): Fullerton State
Colonial (1): Drexel
Conference USA (2): Marshall, Memphis
Horizon (1): Green Bay
Ivy (1): Penn
Metro Atlantic (1): Iona
MAC (1): Ohio
MEAC (1): Savannah State
Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Illinois State
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Northeast (1): Long Island
Ohio Valley (1): Murray State
Pac 12 (4): Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, UCLA
Patriot (1): Bucknell
SEC (5): Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee
Southern (1): Davidson
Southland (1): Oral Roberts
SWAC (1): Prairie View A&M
Summit (1): South Dakota State
Sun Belt (1): Middle Tennessee State
West Coast (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
WAC (1): Denver
Non-BCS At-Larges (9): Colorado State, Illinois State, Marshall, New Mexico, Saint Louis, Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Temple, VCU.
Last 4 In (see ya' in Dayton): Colorado, Marshall, New Mexico, Ole Miss. 
First Four Automatic Qualifiers (also Dayton-bound): Coastal Carolina, Mercer, Prairie View A&M, Stony Brook.
First 4 Out: Butler, Cincinnati, Illinois, UMass.
Others Considered: Alabama, BYU Cal, Drake, LaSalle, Lehigh, Maryland, Northern Iowa, Northwestern, Oregon, Southern Miss, Virginia.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball