When you look at St Thomas as an institution and as a market, they compare favorably to Marquette.How impactful has UWGB been on the Marquette and Wisconsin basketball programs over the years? That hypothetical 6th-7th-8th man walk on you speak of for the Gophers has been going to Northern Iowa, the Dakotas, UWGB, etc. for a number of years. There's only so many spots on a roster and if a kid wants to play, they're going to find a college that'll take them.
As for the hypothetical scenario of a 4-12 Gophers squad losing crowds to St. Thomas. . .well, we've been there, done that, except that time and dollars is going to the Timberwolves, where you can watch the best players in the world. The given scenario reminds me of those golden days of the Twins being discussed for contraction and the Saints drawing solid crowds and tailgates at Midway, and if I recall, even outdrawing the Twins on the occasional night. No way that it could last.
In my view, the high level of prep basketball currently in the state has been highly influenced by the T-Wolves (or, to be accurate, that we are a NBA city and access to viewing the top talent in the sport). Another D-1 team means more interest in basketball, more talent, more opportunities, more development, more awareness. How long has the state had several hockey programs at the top level, and teams such as UMD, St. Cloud State, Mankato and Bemidji competing right along side the Gophers (if not better)? I know nothing of college hockey, but I have to imagine it's been a case of higher water raising all boats. It's going to be years before the Tommies would be any type of competition for the Gophers and as Ope3 pointed out, the Gophers coach deserves to be under scrutiny if they're a better draw that a Big 10 team.
Obviously, you can’t fabricate that level of a b-ball program, out of nothing, overnight. Not saying a Big East invite is coming soon, and even if it did, not saying Minnesota v UST will be like Wisconsin v Marquette.
But I think that is much more the long term vision, than UW-Milwaukee.