MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What a difference a year makes, huh?
“It’s really weird, just two years ago, there was talk about how coach was on the hot seat, how we was a bad team. But we have a really good year and now everybody’s expecting great things from us,” guard Dupree McBrayer said.
At this time last year, the Gophers were coming off their worst season in school history, and most observers expected more of the same. Minnesota was picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten. Instead, they finished fourth, and made the NCAA Tournament.
This year, outside expectations are sky high. The Gophers start the season ranked 15th in the coaches poll and are a trendy pick to make a deep postseason run.
“You don’t want to say it’s irrelevant because certainly it’s there. But I tell our guys, no disrespect to the people who pick, fans, media, but we were picked 13th last year and we showed that all that talk is irrelevant,” coach Richard Pitino said. “Well, it’s the same thing this year. Some got us picked towards the top, none of it really matters. At the end of the day if we let our play do the talking none of it will really matter.”
But it certainly is a different challenge to tackle, and Pitino doesn’t discount the impact that kind of stuff can have on a team. So he talks to them about it, offering examples to them of how to combat outside pressure.
“I’ve worked very, very hard to show them examples in the offseason about human nature,” Pitino said.
“There’s an expression in a book that we read, ‘The Winner Within,’ Pat Riley and it’s called ‘the disease of me.’ Riley talked about his early years, one of his first seasons, I think they won the title and there was no expectations, and then they all come back — Magic Johnson and all this — and there’s expectations and that disease of me creeps in. We can’t allow ourselves to do that. Last year was easy. Nobody thought we were gong to do anything, and it was not real hard to get them to band together. This year will be a challenge. But that’s obviously my responsibility and it’s exciting to deal with.”
The hype is warranted. They’ve got the pieces and the experience to make some noise, with five returning starters and a terrific freshmen class added to it.
“I think we can be special. Working pretty hard in the offseason and now that it’s here I think we can do something special,” guard Amir Coffey said.
“Sky’s the limit. Sky’s the limit,” McBrayer said. “Now I don’t want to say nothing to jinx it, but sky’s the limit.”