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NIT Tournament Bracket Should Be Easier For Gophers With Return Of Ralph Sampson

The Minnesota Golden Gophers made waves during the Big Ten Tournament by forcing a pair of overtime games, the first of which ended in an upset victory over the Northwestern Wildcats. They'll play the role of the underdog again this week the the 2012 National Invitational Tournament, but will likely have a better chance considering senior center Ralph Sampson III is expected to return from injury.

Sampson missed the Gophers' Big Ten Tournament games with a knee injury he sustained practice, but head coach Tubby Smith said he expects his only senior to be ready for their run through the 2012 NIT Tournament bracket. Coach Smith hasn't decided whether Sampson or redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason will start, however, according to the Pioneer Press.

"He (Sampson) looked good this morning," Smith said. "Elliott played well. Sampson has to be fully physically ready, or he won't be able to help us. I thought today he showed a lot of that, although he seemed to be a little ginger, a little tender out there. But he did go hard while he was out there. He's an excellent free throw shooter, if we can get him to the line.

Eliason was very solid in the Big Ten Tournament, being a key factor in the first round victory, but a poised Sampson can make things happen.

For more on the Minnesota Golden Gophers, check out The Daily Gopher. You can also learn more about college basketball around the nation at SB Nation's College Basketball hub.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.