Minnesota Pledged to Be Good (but Not This Good)

“I think each one of these, one way or another, either explicitly apologizes or can be read as an apology,” Kaler said. “Nobody wants to be associated with a program that’s not doing well. These are genuine, heartfelt letters. They weren’t read from a script. Each one is different. That’s a good sign.”


Eric Kaler, the university president, was impressed with the heartfelt letters he received from men’s basketball players last summer addressing the team’s off-the-court problems.

Jennifer Simonson/Minnesota Public Radio, via Associated Press

Less than a year later, the Gophers (23-8 over all, 11-7 in the Big Ten) are outperforming expectations in multiple ways. Their 15-victory improvement, the largest in Division I, earned Pitino, 34, the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award on Monday. Though Minnesota lost its final conference game, at Wisconsin on Sunday, ending an eight-game winning streak, it claimed the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, its highest ever.

Even if the Gophers lose Friday’s quarterfinal against Thursday’s Michigan State-Penn State winner, their record and their R.P.I. of 20 will most likely assure them an N.C.A.A. tournament bid. It would be the program’s first since Pitino succeeded the fired Tubby Smith in 2013.

Most important to Kaler, the Gophers players who pledged to stay out of trouble completed the summer and the regular season without another incident.

“They’ve made enormous progress both on the court and off the court,” Kaler said, “and I think Richard deserves credit for what he’s done.”

Last season’s problems were only the most recent ones for a program known more for misconduct than achievement, from an infamous on-court brawl with Ohio State in 1972 through five N.C.A.A. probations from 1976…

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