NCAAB Minnesota Golden Gophers

NCAA Division: Division I
Conference: Big Ten
Past Conferences: Western, Independent

City: Minneapolis, MN

Stadium: Williams Arena

NCAA Tournaments: 1972, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019

Championships: 

National Championships: None

Conference Titles: None

Team History

The men’s basketball program at the University of Minnesota has enjoyed some success, but that comes with a couple of disclaimers. First of all, many of their most successful years relative to league and regional rivals occurred early in the 1900s, when the program won more than half of its regular-season conference titles.

 

Additionally, resurgent periods in the 1970s and 1990s were eventually marred by NCAA sanctions passed down due to a variety of indiscretions. In the midst of one of those eras, the Golden Gophers were the primary culprits in a brutal brawl against Ohio State that put another stain on the program.

 

Long before all of that, a man named Louis Cooke guided the program from its inception in the mid-1890s through 1924. His teams claimed five Big Ten titles and the 1902, 1903, and 1919 teams were retroactively awarded national championships.

 

There was another Big Ten crown in 1937, but, since then, the team has finished first in the league only three times and it has never won the conference tournament. 

 

There were some solid squads in the 1950s under Ozzie Cowles, who had a .612 winning percentage in his 11 seasons, but the 1960s produced only three teams with winning records and four different head coaches patrolled the sidelines between 1967 and 1972.

 

A Night of Terror & Mayhem

The last of those men was Bill Musselman, who would later be the first head coach in Minnesota Timberwolves history. His first unit in 1971-72 featured future NBA standout Jim Brewer and eventual baseball hall-of-famer Dave Winfield. It was a formidable squad that held opponents to just 58.0 points per game, and it had a reputation as a tough-as-nails team.

 

Unfortunately, that toughness turned to terror one night in January against Ohio State, who led late in a game at Minnesota’s Williams Arena. After a hard foul on a Buckeyes player, mayhem broke loose and several on the Ohio State side were attacked by Golden Gophers players, fans and even the mascot.

 

The melee sent multiple Buckeyes to the hospital and many have claimed they never recovered mentally from that incident, spurred on in part by Musselman declaring the game to be the biggest in program history. Two Minnesota players were suspended for the rest of the season and missed out on the team’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

 

The following year the Gophers were even better, ranking in the top 10 all season. However, they fell short of the Big Ten crown and were left with an NIT berth that ended in the quarterfinals.

 

Indiscretions & Rape Charges

Musselman resigned after two more seasons and was attached to several indiscretions, including giving money to players and allegedly attempting to strike another. Following his departure, an NCAA investigation unearthed more than 100 violations in Musselman’s four years, and the program was barred from postseason play for two years.

 

The 1981-82 team, featuring 7-3 Randy Breuer among several future NBAers, helped pull the program out of the ashes with a run to the Big Ten title and a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Jimmy Dutcher would last just 3½ more seasons before resigning over the school’s decision to forfeit a game in the wake of rape charges against three of the players, another in a long line of dark chapters.

 

Clem Haskins took over in 1986-87 and would soon construct some of the best teams in program history. But as with everything surrounding this team, it was marred by scandal, this time with a massive academic fraud issue.

 

Before that came to surface, Haskins led both the 1988-89 and 1989-90 teams on Cinderella runs in the NCAA Tournament. Although NCAAB odds were against them, an 11th-seeded team reached the Sweet 16 in the first of those years and a 6th-seeded squad made it to the Elite Eight the following year.

 

There were two more Big Dance appearances in 1994 and 1995 before Haskins’ team put it all together in 1996-97. Minnesota Golden Gophers team stats that season displayed a unit that dominated inside, ranking in the top 10 in the country in rebounds and two-point shots, as well as assists and steals. It claimed the Big Ten by four games over and rolled over its first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament.

 

After a double-overtime win against Clemson to reach the Elite Eight, Minnesota knocked off second-seeded UCLA to make it to the Final Four, the school’s first and only visit. A loss to a loaded Kentucky team ended the run in the national semifinals.

 

Massive Academic Fraud Exposed

Two years later, as the Gophers were about to begin another NCAA Tournament appearance, the details of the academic fraud became exposed. Several players involved were suspended before the team lost to Gonzaga and Haskins was dismissed after the season.

 

Eventually, the NCAA forced the team to vacate all results from the 1993-94 season through the 1998-99 campaign, creating a massive hole in the program’s history. There have been six NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT title under five different head coaches ever since, with Tubby Smith and Richard Pitino – son of Rick – the most notable figures in that time frame, but the team has rarely been a contender.

 

After Pitino suffered through back-to-back losing seasons amid the COVID years, Ben Johnson -a local kid who was a star at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis- took over before the 2021-22 season. His first squad opened 10-1 before falling on hard times, going 4-16 in the Big Ten.

 

Early betting tips suggest the Golden Gophers will have long odds next season and be at or near the bottom of the Big Ten again, as a rebuild continues.

 

All-Time Records

  • Points Scored

    • Voshon Lenard: 2,103

    • Mychal Thompson: 1,992

    • Jordan Murphy: 1,802

 

  • Rebounds

    • Jordan Murphy: 1,305

    • Mychal Thompson: 956

    • Kevin McHale: 950

 

  • Assists

    • Arriel McDonald: 547

    • Nate Mason: 512

    • Kevin Burleson: 440

 

  • Wins

    • Louis Cooke: 248

    • Clem Haskins: 239

    • Dave McMillan: 196

FAQs

  1. What is the highest win total in program history?

 

Although it isn’t recognized in an official capacity due to NCAA violations, the 1996-97 team won 31 games in a Final Four run. The most wins in a season not marked by vacated victories are 25, accomplished in 2013-14.

 

  1. What was the worst season in program history?

 

A few teams very early in Minnesota’s history had worse winning percentages than the 2015-16 squad, but none had more losses. That team was 8-23 and went 2-16 in Big Ten play.

 

  1. Who is the greatest player in program history?

 

There’s a good debate to be had here but we’re going with Mychal Thompson, who was a four-year star who averaged over 20 points per game in each of his last three seasons. Thompson was an All-Big Ten first-team performer in each of those campaigns and was an All-American twice. He remains second on the school’s all-time list in both points and rebounds.

 

Drafted first overall in 1978, Thompson enjoyed a standout NBA career that included back-to-back championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

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