Column: Look to Minnesota for hope, Mizzou men’s basketball fans

Minnesota went from an 8-23 team in the regular season last year to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament this season. Do they have a template that Missouri can use?
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The time has begun for fans to place their bets on which horse they think can win the race affectionately known as March Madness.

Is your money on North Carolina? Or did you pick its neighbor in Durham to hoist the trophy instead? Perhaps you want to deviate from the conventional path and pick a No. 3 seed such as Oregon.

No matter who you picked, I can say one thing with the utmost confidence about your bracket: The Missouri men’s basketball team is not that team.

After an 8-24 campaign, the Tigers will watch the NCAA tournament from home for the fourth consecutive year. Many Missouri students will also be watching March Madness wondering if they will see the Tigers in the tournament before they are sending their kids to college.

Fear not, Missouri fans. A program can be turned around in one season. Just ask your fellow midwesterners up in the North Pole … I mean Minnesota.

At this time last year, Minnesota was filled with a lot of snow and little hope for the Gophers men’s basketball team.

Minnesota finished 8-23 in 2015-16, but the team had issues off the court, too.

Minnesota suspended three Gophers for the last four games of the season for their connection to an explicit video posted on social media. Another player, Reggie Lynch, was arrested in May on suspicion of sexual assault. He was not charged, however.

The Gophers’ culture served as a repellant for talented in-state recruits. No 2017 prospects from Minnesota chose to play for the Gophers. One of those players, Nathan Reuvers, told me he didn’t think he would “be good in that culture.” He instead committed to Wisconsin.

Now a year later, Minnesota has made it through the season without any issues off the court, and its losing ways are no more.

The Gophers flipped their record in 2016-17, finishing 23-8 in the regular season, and received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Can Missouri flip its 8-24 record next season and return to the NCAA tournament? It won’t be easy, but the Gophers show it can be done.

Understand, though, that the circumstances at Missouri are different than what they were at Minnesota. A culture issue did not plague the Tigers this season; they just struggled to win.

Minnesota also had experienced more recent success. The Gophers finished with winning records the two seasons prior to 2015-16 and won the NIT championship under coach Richard Pitino in 2014. He was also coming back for a third season in 2016-17. Missouri will have a new head coach next season after three consecutive losing seasons.

So, what changed for Minnesota? The Gophers added young talent in the form of in-state recruits, which they combined with hard work during the offseason.

“We did it the old-fashioned way,” Pitino said after a win over Arkansas State in December. “We took our lumps in the offseason, which we deserve. We just sat there and listened to [the criticism], and we worked.”

Missouri players and their next leader might want to take note. What worked for Minnesota won’t necessarily work for the Tigers, but it’s not a bad place to start.

Don’t expect that same turnaround in the first year of the new coach’s regime. There’s a reason Pitino won Big Ten Coach of the Year this season, after all.

But take comfort in the fact that a complete turnaround is possible.

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