Believe it or not but we are half-way through the Gopher basketball season already. 16 games have been played with 16 more to go (the 16th being 1st game of Big Ten Tournament) and from there it is anybody's guess how many more they'll be allowed to play. I realize that we have just dipped our toe into the Big Ten season, but why not take a look at what it is going to take for the Gophers to earn their second consecutive NCAA Tournament birth.
Current Record: 13-3 (2-1)
Current RPI: 45
Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-1
Record vs. RPI top 100: 3-3
RPI Top 100 Wins: Florida State (43), Nebraska-Omaha (71), @Richmond (83)
Bad Losses: Arkansas (88)
This resume has nothing that jumps out at you as really good nor does it have any major warts. The wins over FSU, UNO and Richmond are not that impressive and if those remain the team's signature wins, then you can forget about the NCAA Tournament. In the big, bad Big Ten there will be plenty of opportunities to snag a really nice win or two. Conversely the losses are also not all that bad. The Arkansas loss was ugly, but they are still a top 100 RPI team so the loss doesn't stick out like losing to a really bad team would. Syracuse and Michigan are both highly ranked teams who will be sweating seeding not "if" when it comes to Selection Sunday. The Michigan game was there for the taking, but I'm not going to bemoan losing to a very talented team like the Wolverines.
It would help the Gophers if teams like Nebraska-Omaha and Richmond would start winning games and finish at or near the top of their respective conference. That would help, albeit probably just slightly. What would really boost their profile and resume is a signature win or two.
What Will It Take?
Winning a couple big games, as I just mentioned, would be huge; but only if they don't pair a big win with a really bad loss.
I think the magic number will be 8 Big Ten wins. Last year there were four teams that finished 9-9 or 8-10 in the Big Ten. Two got in and two did not. Iowa was 9-9 but their out of conference strength of schedule was 313th nationally, they did not get in. Purdue was 8-10 but their overall record was 15-17, not nearly enough to get in. Minnesota and Illinois both earned bids with an 8-10 Big Ten record because the rest of their resume was sound enough.
Obviously getting into the the Tournament is based on a number of factors. RPI, strength of schedule, wins, conference wins and then your list of quality wins vs. bad losses. Right now our RPI is 45 and our out of conference strength of schedule ranks 85th. Both of those numbers are OK. Their RPI will move over the next few months but the OOCSOS at 85th will not. That number should be high enough to not keep us out of the conversation on Selection Sunday.
Six more conference wins is the magic number to get you into consideration. Less than that and you only get in with a run in the Big Ten Tournament. More than that and you shouldn't be sweating anything. The six more win goal does not include a Big Ten Tournament win these have to be in the regular season. Now six doesn't guarantee you anything! Six gets you to the bubble. Any more wins and with each one we should feel more comfortable. And fewer wins and I think you need a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament.
An 8-10 Big Ten record, I think would be good enough for this Gopher team. RPI should be top 50, strength of schedule should be very good as well and to get to six I am going to assume that they pick up a good win or two along the way.
Here are the remaining opponents that just happen to break down into groupings of five.
Top Tier Opponents - @MSU, OSU, Wis, @Wis, @OSU - five games against top-5 ranked teams. Any win here would be tremendous, but I'm not counting on it.
NCAA Teams - @Iowa, Ind, Ill, Iowa, @Mich - now we get three of these games at home and snagging 2 here might be necessary. This is the grouping of games that will make or break our NCAA Tournament hopes.
Lower Tier Opponents - @Neb, NW, @Pur, @NW, PSU - five teams who will not be making the NCAA Tournament and we are probably in this group, possibly at the top of this heap. You kind of have to get four out of five wins here, at a minimum. Winning @Purdue is not going to be a picnic but the other four games are all winable. Especially if you want to play with the big boys in March.
Then you get the opportunity to snag more wins in the Big Ten Tournament. It is important to remember that this program made the Tournament last year with an 8-10 Big Ten record and they also had some bad losses like @Nebraska, @Northwestern and a 26-point loss at Ohio State last year. We also finished with a loss in the Big Ten Tournament in our first game. So bad losses can be overcome, they would probably have to be offset by a big upset of one of those top tier teams (see Indiana win last year).
This team is not as good as last year's and they don't really have any signature wins in the non-conference schedule. 8-10 this year isn't going to be quite the lock that 8-10 was last year, but it would certainly put us into consideration.
Will it Happen?
You tell me. Assuming the Gophers get four wins from that bottom tier, can they snag two more in the other 10 games? The magic number, in my estimation, is eight Big Ten wins. That is certainly putting you on the bubble and you may need some help either from a weak bubble this year or you may you need a Big Ten Tourney win to finish off the resume. But as I've stated our SOS should be strong and our RPI should be adequate. It may all come down to which teams you beat, and which teams you lose to.
Eight conference wins is a realistic goal to have a realistic shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. Two have been secured, six more to go. Remember that 8-10 is no guarantee! This just puts us in the conversation with a legit chance to get there.