Welcome to the season of overreaction that is Gopher Basketball 2011-12, and yes I fully recognize that I am less a part of the solution and more part of the problem. But I'm going to go forward with this post anyway.
With the three-game win streak the Gophers have put themselves back into the conversation for the NCAA Tournament. Believe it or not folks but this team can start worrying about their resume. We are not in position to worry about seeding, it is just a matter of getting in right now. But according to Lunardi, we are in as an 11 seed. According to the Bracket Matrix, we are in as a 12 seed (before the NU win). And according to StatJunkie, we were in last week (before the NU win). So let's take a look at our actual resume, the upcoming schedule (both short-term and long-term) and then what is it going to actually take to get in.
The Resume (RPI and SOS info from CBSSports.com)
Strength of Schedule: 49
Record vs. top 100: 5-4
Big Wins: @Indiana (RPI-20), Northwestern (RPI-37)
Bad Losses: Iowa (RPI-113)
The overall resume isn't all that impressive, but our RPI and our SOS is very solid. The actual resume is still being built out with a ton of opportunities to build it up and mail it in with a nice cover letter to the NCAA Selection Committee or send it to plan B in New York hoping the NIT would take us this year. There are still so many games to be played that the resume as it stands right now isn't a huge deal. The upcoming schedule is what will determine our fate.
Opportunities for big wins are on the horizon. The Gophers have yet to play Wisconsin (x2), Michigan State (x2) and Ohio State (x1). And then Indiana has a chance for redemption when they travel to The Barn at the end of February. That is six of our 11 remaining games against teams currently ranked. Fortunately we also have four games against teams currently below us in the standings. There are four winable games in Nebraska (x2), at Iowa and at Northwestern. Unfortunately three of those four are on the road. Then the one other remaining game is Illinois at home.
That is not an easy schedule to navigate. Six games against the best of the Big Ten and then mostly road games against the lower third of the conference which has proven to be no picnic. The good news is that our strength of schedule is going to continue to rise.
The Road to the NCAA Tournament
So if you make the simple assumption that we beat the teams below us, lose to the ranked teams above us that and lets assume a win over Illinois at home; that gives us a Big Ten record of 8-10 with 20 wins overall. I believe that with a strong Big Ten RPI, good Gopher RPI / SOS and a Big Ten Tournament win; that might be enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. I think that many will disagree with me and they may be correct, but it is possible. Getting that 9th Big Ten win really is the key and then I think we are not even on the bubble.
Really there are so many combination of games that we need to win or can't lose or would really help or whatever. Wins over teams above us would be huge and losses to teams below would hurt. For formula is that you need an extra big win for every "bad loss" and ultimately I think the magic number, prior to the Big Ten Tournament, is six. Get to 9-9 in the Big Ten and I think we are safely in. 8-10 might be enough but we'd have work to do in Indianapolis and likely some help from bubble teams losing. The game that keeps me up at night (not really, but you get the point) is that loss at Illinois. When you have a chance to ice a game from the free throw line, you have to do that. If we were 4-3 with three road wins instead of 3-4, I'd be feeling pretty confident that we'd get to nine wins.
Is the NCAA Tournament a possibility? Absolutely, and I'm gaining confidence. Assuming the Gophers we have seen over the last three games are the ones that we see the rest of the season then I think there is not reason we cannot be competitive in every game we play and we'll win plenty. Wisconsin is heating up, but they have looked vulnerable this season (and we tend to matchup well with them anyway). And we get two extra days to prepare for Ohio State, so we've got that going for us. And
We simply cannot afford let downs like the home loss to Iowa. And then stealing a game or two along the way would be really nice. But this team is capable as long as they continue to defend and Joe Coleman keeps leading what needs to be a balanced offense.