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.

Minnesota Leaders
Points: A. Hollins 14.9
Rebounds: E. Eliason 7.7
Assists: D. Mathieu 4.3
FG%: No qualifiers
FT%: A. Hollins 82.9%
3P%: M. Smith 38.3%
Steals: A. Hollins 2.1
Blocks: E. Eliason 2.5

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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Show Comments (1 Comment)
1 Post Your Comment
Jim on 2/13/2014 @ 3:46pm EDT Said:

Coming from a gopher fan, great article Tom! I like the breakdown. vs Illinois and vs Penn State are must-wins for the Gophers. The third win should either be @Northwestern or at home vs Iowa.

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