You may recall that I posted what I thought it would take for the Gophers to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. I basically said that 8 conference wins was the mendoza line. Anything below and you can forget about it, anything above and we are a lock. I also broke out our Big Ten opponents into tiers. The beauty is that we have five games this year against what I previously viewed as the upper tier of the Big Ten (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State). We've already notched two wins of those five. Clearly I should have included Michigan, but I didn't and the message is the same. Two huge wins over teams that on paper we should not have beat. This now leaves us with a strong NCAA Tournament resume and it leaves us with increased scrutiny when we face some of the mid or lower tier teams in the conference.
Current Record: 14-5 (4-3)
Current RPI: 25
Strength of Schedule: 6
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 4-4
RPI Top 100 Wins: Wisconsin (3), Ohio State (16), Florida State (23), @Richmond (52)
Bad Losses: Arkansas (69)
This resume is more than good enough to get in. This is safely off the bubble due to RPI, SOS and our worst loss coming to a team with an RPI of 69. The problem is the season is far from over and there is plenty of time to affect our resume for both the good and the bad.
The Gophers just endured a very difficult 4-game stretch in the Big Ten where they faced four teams, all ranked in the top 15 in the country. This little stretch had me very nervous and I felt as though going 1-3 would be a nice accomplishment, with an assumption that 0-4 was most likely. What did they do?
- @ #5 Michigan State - Even without scoring at FG for 10+ minutes they still managed to take the Spartans into overtime before ultimately dropping a close one.
- #11 Ohio State - WIN by double-digits
- @ #14 Iowa - this one got ugly over the last 25 minutes. A loss to a good team on the road, nothing to see here.
- #9 Wisconsin - WIN by 13.
2-2 through this stretch has to be considered a huge win overall and really nice boost to the team's tournament resume. Getting to 8 or 9 Big Ten wins is still the goal and it appears to be more achievable after surviving this four-game stretch and earning a couple nice wins.
But that stretch is over and the next four-game stretch is equally, if not more, important. Now we have four games that much more "winable" and this stretch becomes pretty important.
@ Nebraska - first up is a trip to Lincoln. This game is one that I think many Gopher fans are looking at as one we really "should" win, but this one makes me nervous. But everybody has struggled in Lincoln. Undefeated Michigan snuck out with a 1-point win. Ohio State lost after blowing out Nebraska in Columbus just a couple weeks prior. This game makes me nervous. Yes, they are 1-4 in conference but this team plays well at home and if we aren't ready or think we'll walk away with a win by showing up, we'll be treated rudely by our host.
Northwestern - this one concerns me least, but the Wildcats have become a different team over the last couple weeks. They are locking teams down defensively and winning ugly (what you typically expect from Wisconsin). Their offense is putrid, but their defense has been stifling. Considering this one is at home, I feel good about a win.
@ Purdue - Yes, we already beat Purdue and it should have been a larger margin of victory. But the Boilermakers are talented and they probably feel as though they found a formula to beat us from the tape of the last several minutes of that first game. Road game against a mid-level Big Ten team, a loss here really wouldn't be shocking.
Indiana - Home game against a talented team that is really underachieving this year. With the way we have been playing at home, I feel pretty good about this game. But Indiana is talented and you never know.
This isn't exactly about making predictions, this is to drive home two points.
First, these games are really important. You can't follow up this 2-2 stretch against eventual high-seed NCAA Tournament teams by going 1-3 against teams that will be out of the Tournament or bubble teams.
Secondly, don't get your expectations too high. This stretch was great, but it may not necessarily be the base-line for this team. The wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State may be a combination of us playing well on nights when they didn't. Not to take anything away from the Gophers, they went out beat those teams. They executed a great game-plan and did the things necessary to win; no flukes. But that doesn't mean things may not be different the next time around, you better believe Bo Ryan won't allow his team to let the Gophers into the lane quite as easily when we go to Madison.
The point is that there is a lot of time left in the season and at this point we need to battle overconfidence (mostly as a fan base and our expectations). I love this team, they compete very hard and with each game they seem to be executing better and better on both ends of the floor. But they are still capable of losing to mid-level teams or to anybody on the road. The battle, in the near-term, is against overconfidence.
We should all be feeling really good about this team. They are playing very well right now and they are executing well-prepared game-plans against good teams. This next stretch is going to be critical. Don't overreact if we drop a game, even if we are favored. And enjoy watching this tough-nosed team that fights on every possession.
Eight Big Ten wins is still the line, fortunately nine is looking more and more possible.