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Golden Gopher Basketball and the Path to the NCAA Tournament

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

"So you're saying there's a chance."

Not really but it is still possible.

It has been a brutal basketball season for Gopher fans.  The non-conference season played out about as expected with what looked like a Gopher team that was playing pretty solid defense and was coming along offensively.  This was a team we all thought would be more competitive in the Big Ten and would be pushing to be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament Bubble by now.

But things derailed and it happened quickly.  The Big Ten schedule makers put the Gophers on the road early and often when the schedule turned to conference games.  Our only home game among the first four being a chance to host Ohio State.  The result was an 0-5 start and an deep hole to not only a decent conference finish but also making an NCAA Tournament bid a very difficult task.

A few of those games were "Oh So Close" and a free throw here or there would make things look very different today.  No need to rehash what could have been.  But after the 0-5 start I think that there has been a tendency to overlook the fact that the Gophers have since gone 6-5 with nice wins at Iowa, at Michigan State and even the Purdue and Illinois games look solid.  The last 11 games is about what I (perhaps we) expected to see all year.  Unfortunately the 0-5 start happened.

So the question today there still a chance to overcome the early hole and still manage to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament?

The short answer, I believe, is yes.  But the path is narrow, it is treacherous and it may require some luck; something we have severely lacked this season.  But if the Gophers are going to make a last ditch push there are really only two ways it happens.


Win the next four games and hope for some help.  You just have to win, not necessarily win out, but win.

  1. Beat Wisconsin - the Michigan State road win was a nice resume win.  But you need more and beating the #6 RPI team and conference champ and potentially #1 seed is going to make a statement and get you back into the conversation.  Lose this game and you've lost all hope of another badly needed signature win.
  2. Beat Penn State - this win doesn't do anything for you other than get you closer to 20 wins.  But a loss here erases any positives you have built on your resume.  The home Northwestern loss is bad, this would be worse.
  3. Cheer for Michigan State - other than the potential Wisconsin win, this is our only other win we can point to as really good.  Right now the Spartans have a 10-6 Big Ten record with games against Purdue and Indiana remaining.  Them getting to 12-6 and a higher Big Ten standings finish only makes our road win look better.
  4. Win Two in the Big Ten Tournament - two puts you right squarely on the bubble.  Might not quite be enough, but pretty close.  Beating Wisconsin and Penn State puts the Gophers as the 10 seed in B1G Tourney where you likely face Indiana or Illinois (I would guess Illinois).  Must win that game obviously and then you get the second seeded team which is likely Maryland.  Why do I think we only need 2 wins here?  Cause the second one would be over Maryland, giving us another great resume win.  Getting a third win would have to come over the 3-seed or whatever team upset them along the way.
  5. Hope for Some Help - even with this scenario you are still hoping for top seeds in mid-major conferences to earn their league's automatic bid.  Can't have teams's stealing bids thereby eating up additional at-large bids.  And other bubble teams need to lose early.

Things don't look bad for our resume right now, they are bad.  RPI is not very high, Strength of Schedule is low and resume boosting wins are lacking.  But add wins over Wisconsin and Maryland to the resume, add four straight wins and you'll see that RPI move up along with SOS...then you will certainly be a part of the bubble conversation.


If you happen to lose to Wisconsin or Penn State...your only option is to run the table in the Big Ten Tournament.  Win it and steal a bid.

You tell me which is more likely.

Both are slim...very slim.

This season has been a little combination of being unlucky and not being quite good enough to finish games.  Whatever the reason, we have fallen short and I have no delusions of the Gophers playing their way into the NCAA Tournament.  Are they playing better now?  Yes, a little.  Do they have a few opportunities to get themselves back into the conversation?  Probably.  Is it likely to happen?  No and I would not make any such predictions.

The NIT is our likely destination and we will embrace it, but there is a roadmap to get the NCAAs and make some noise along the way.