Dienhart: What Gophers need for an NCAA bid
Most of us can agree with the notion that five Big Ten schools appear headed for the NCAA tourney: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And there is one school that’s seemingly on the fringe: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers can spruce up their resume with a win tonight at Wisconsin. And, let’s be honest: Minnesota’s resume needs some polishing.
Richard Pitino’s club is 16-8 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten, tied with Nebraska and Northwestern while staring up at the aforementioned five schools. But as of right now, Minnesota isn’t playing its best ball.
The Gophers are 3-5 in their last eight games. Among the defeats are a home loss to Northwestern and a setback at Purdue. That’s not scrapbook material. But Minnesota may be primed to turn the corner, as it’s coming off a big home victory vs. Indiana as it preps to tip in Madison tonight.
What does Minnesota need to do over its last seven games to enhance its NCAA hopes? Let’s take a look at the Gophers’ NCAA resume using numbers from www.realtimerpi.com.
- Strength of schedule: 5
- RPI: 47
- Projected record: 19-12 overall; 8-10 Big Ten
- Quality wins: Ohio State 26 RPI; Wisconsin 21; Richmond 54
- Bad losses: Northwestern 114; at Purdue 106
- Big games left: at Wisconsin 21; at Ohio State 26; Iowa 18; at Michigan 14
Bottom line: The Gophers have a decent RPI and an excellent strength of schedule. Another thing helping Minnesota: It doesn’t have any horrible losses. And its quality wins stack up favorably with other fringe NCAA tourney teams, as Minnesota is 2-3 vs. Top 25 squads.
Even better: The Golden Gophers have four games left against high-quality foes, giving them a nice opportunity to build their resume. And it begins tonight at Wisconsin, a team Minnesota beat earlier this season but is getting hot again with wins vs. Illinois and Michigan State.
The Gophers should punch their Big Dance ticket by going 8-10 in the Big Ten, which is considered by most to be if not the best than the second-best (Big 12 No. 1) conference in the nation. So that means Minnesota needs to finish the regular season by going 3-4 in its final seven tilts. And, that’s doable—even with a loss tonight to the Badgers.
No doubt, an 8-10 league mark followed by one triumph in the Big Ten tourney figures to make Minnesota a lock for the NCAA tourney. That would make Pitino’s club one of the bigger surprises in the nation. Who thought Minnesota was a tourney team back in October? Exactly.
If this all happens, how fun would it be to have a first-round matchup between the Gophers and Louisville, which is coached by Rick Pitino?
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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