Time for another check up on our NCAA Tournament resume. You may recall the last time we looked at the resume we were coming off a four-game stretch against what was at the time four teams in the top 15 nationally. We managed to 2-2 over that stretch beating Ohio State and Wisconsin on our home floor. The next four games were not so kind to the Gophers who stumbled to 1-3 against Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana.
Just how damaging were those three losses? To be honest, not terribly damaging. Here is the current resume...
Current Record: 15-8 (5-6)
Current RPI: 40
Strength of Schedule: 5
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 5-6
RPI Top 100 Wins: Wisconsin (7), Ohio State (19), @Richmond (41), Florida State (62), Indiana (95)
Bad Worst Losses: @Purdue (112), Northwestern (103), Arkansas (77)
Strength of schedule, RPI and some nice top 50 wins continue to highlight the Gopher resume. The home loss to Northwestern is the biggest wart but there is still time to overcome that one.
Certainly a resume good enough to land on the bubble in any conversation, if not good enough to make it in just on it's own merit. Most bracket predictors still have the Gophers not only safely in the tournament but above the cut-line for those teams who will have to play in what is technically called the first round (we know them as the play-in games).
- Lundardi's Bracketology - 11-seed and one of the last four still receiving a bye.
- Bracket Matrix - The last 10-seed.
- Yahoo!'s Brad Evans - 8-seed, updated yesterday.
- Crashing the Dance - 11-seed
- SB Nation - 10-seed
Most bracket predictions have us as a 10 or 11 seed with a few outliers putting the Gophers as high as 8. The point of this little exercise is to show you that even though we have struggled, we are still in a decent position. There are a lot of other teams who have similarly struggled. Getting into the NCAA Tournament has never been about achieving a certain amount of wins, finishing a certain place in your power conference, playing a specific strength of schedule or getting a certain RPI rank. All of those things matter but they matter only as a tool for comparing you to other programs. As it stands there are several teams below the Gophers who are also considered "in" for the Tournament. The Gophers don't have to finish better than those teams, they have to finish better than the teams below those teams.
Between now and Selection Sunday, I would estimate that there are about 10 teams who would all have to finish varying degrees of stronger than the Gophers to push us completely out. It could happen; either by us playing so poorly we drop like a lead balloon or other teams get hot and pass us. Plenty of season yet to be played. I'm not trying to say we are a lock by any stretch of the imagination because a couple bad losses and you fall pretty quickly to the thick of the bubble. I would argue that currently our position is strong and we control our own destiny by just earning a few more wins.
My position all along has been that the Gophers need to get themselves to 8 Big Ten wins. I know that many are looking at 9 as the magic number and to that I only sort of agree. Nine wins puts the Gophers into the Tournament without any hesitation or anxiety on Selection Sunday; maybe even as high as an 8 seed. Nine wins, along with our RPI and SOS is an absolute LOCK. Eight wins is a bit more fuzzy and I think it puts us on the bubble. On the bubble but still likely in. Seven Big Ten wins and then a Big Ten Tournament win...that might not be enough. Eight regular season wins, I think is enough. Eight regular season wins and BTT loss is more treacherous and would put us at the mercy of other programs also fading so we can back into a 1st round, play-in game.
As I said there is plenty of season left to be played, beginning tonight at Wisconsin. There are a few opportunities to notch another big plus in the resume. Each one of those makes things more and more secure.
There are 2 remaining games that are near must-wins for the Gophers; hosting Illinois and Penn State. Must-win is a bit strong. You could lose both of those games, win the other five games and finish 10-8 in conference. But I don't anticipate winning all other games, those are your most winable and you kind of need them to get yourself to 8 or 9 conference wins.
The next batch of games are winable and winning just one of these are likely to get you to the magic #8. Iowa at home and Northwestern on the road.
Finally you have 3 games that appear to be on the more difficult side. At Wisconsin tonight, at Ohio State and at Michigan. Three road games against ranked, top-tier Big Ten programs. Steal one of these and seeding becomes more heavily talked about, not just getting in. Lose all three and you can still survive by getting at least three from above. Remember last year, the Gophers lost at Iowa by 21 and at Ohio State by 26 in late February and still made the Tournament.
You still have to play the games. The Gophers still need to win a few more games and finish the season strong; at least stronger than a handful of other teams around the country. I'm still rather confident that things will end well for us considering we have a top strength of schedule and a very high RPI. Both of those are going to really help the Gopher's cause in a few weeks. Also getting Andre Hollins healthier, getting Austin Hollins back contributing and improved play from Maurice Walker can only help in getting us to the goal of an NCAA Tournament bid.