May 30, 2007
Minneapolis, MN (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Minnesota is heading to San Diego to do battle in the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons.
But it did not come easy for the Gophers, whose mediocre May put them squarely on the tournament bubble.
Making matters even more interesting, the Big Ten tournament's lowest seed, Ohio State, captured the tournament title and earned the automatic bid.
That result put even more strain on both Minnesota and Michigan's chances of making the tournament, which both looked for at-large selections Monday morning.
Gophers senior outfielder/first baseman Mike Mee was with his team when the Wolverines grabbed an at-large bid, causing his squad to tense up with anticipation.
And once Minnesota was called, Mee said getting into the tournament was certainly a relief.
"I was confident in our season resume; we beat some really good teams," he said. "But we knew we weren't a shoe-in."
The Gophers' non-conference season is perhaps the reason the team will be making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2004 on Friday against Cal State Fullerton (33-23 overall), the same opponent Minnesota faced in its last visit.
The Gophers' bracket also includes top-seeded San Diego (43-16 overall) and fourth-seeded Fresno State (36-27 overall).
With wins over two top-10 teams for the first time since 1993 -- including victories over No. 5 Arkansas, No. 9 Pepperdine and No. 16 Ole Miss -- the Gophers (40-16) had much to show to the committee.
Senior pitcher Bill Johnson, who was with the Gophers during their last NCAA run, said getting to the 40-win mark along with the nonconference schedule gave the team optimism heading into the selection show Monday.
"Those wins were huge for us," he said. "Our nonconference schedule always gives us a chance to play some of the best in the country. It no doubt gives us confidence heading down to San Diego."
Minnesota found itself one strike away from the 40-win mark in last weekend's tournament, as they rallied for a 4-3 win over Penn State before losing to Ohio State in the championship game.
It was the seventh time the Gophers found themselves in the title matchup.
Coach John Anderson, who has been an outspoken critic of the Big Ten tournament for years, said Ohio State's run in the tournament almost cost a deserving team a spot.
Citing that the Southeastern Conference lacked its normal strength, perhaps allowing three Big Ten teams in, Anderson said there are better ways to determine a team's postseason fate.
"I feel bad for teams that have a great season and don't get to go," he said. "I'd rather use our 56 games and play a high RPI team that final weekend instead of beating each other up in the conference tournament."
Despite the unexpected weekend outcome, the Big Ten will be represented in the NCAAs by three teams -- its most since also sending three in 2000. That year, Minnesota, Penn State and Illinois all earned bids.
The Gophers will be making their 28th appearance Friday and Anderson said it will no doubt be a tough one.
"Anytime you go to the West Coast, there's a lot of talent," he said. "There would be better fits for us elsewhere. But that's where they placed us and we'll have to do the best we can."
(C) 2007 Minnesota Daily via CSTV U-WIRE