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Minnesota Basketball: What will it take for the Gophers to get into the NCAA Tournament

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Can the Gophers get into the 2020 NCAA Tournament?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Minnesota vs Louisville Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

This was going to be a season with many questions and even more new faces getting acclimated. After losing two of the best Gophers in the past decade while adding several new faces to the rotation, this season had no guarantees.

But the goal is still to get this team into the NCAA Tournament. And it is never too early to start looking at the state of our resume and what is it going to take get this team back into the NCAA Tournament.

Before we get into the specifics of the resume it is important to point out the real quandary that Gophers are in.

Strength of Schedule vs. Overall Record

This is where the Gophers present a fascinating discussion for the selection committee. Depending on where you look, the Gopher’s non-conference schedule was one of the most challenging of all teams in contention for a tournament bid. Their overall strength of schedule is likely going to be a top 10 schedule. The committee has always valued playing a challenging schedule.

The problem? We didn’t win very many of those games.

  • Oklahoma (N) - loss
  • @Butler - loss
  • @Utah - loss
  • DePaul - loss
  • Clemson - win
  • Oklahoma State (N) - win

Half of those teams are either considered “in” to the tournament or on the bubble, with Oklahoma State and Clemson one hot week away from getting into that bubble conversation as well.

So the Gophers have a really impressive strength of schedule ranking but currently sit squarely on the bubble with an unimpressive 10-7 record.

How does one improve upon this slightly above .500 record? You have to get wins while playing in the toughest and most balanced conference in the country.

Therein lies the challenge ahead.

Current Status

OUT, but very close.

All projections I have looked at have the Gophers right around the 4th or 5th team out of the tournament, but none of those account for Wednesday’s win over Penn State.

ESPN Bracketology has been updated and has us as one of the last 4 teams in.

So we are barely in or a few teams out, somewhere in that range.

The Resume

Record: 10-7
NCAA Net Ranking: 40
Quad 1 Wins: 2
Quad 2 Wins: 3

Good Wins: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State
Bad Losses: DePaul

I list DePaul as a “bad loss” but that is really only because it is our worst loss of the season thus far. Oklahoma State looked like a good win at the time but since then the Cowboys have dropped 4 of 5, only beating Southeastern Louisiana.

An NCAA NET ranking of 40 is rather high. But it does not guarantee a bid. Last season NC State had a NET of 33, Ohio State had a NET of 55 and it was the Buckeyes who played in the NCAAs while the Wolfpack were NIT bound. So clearly other pieces of the resume matter. Comparing those two teams, it looks like strength of schedule is the primary differentiater. Ohio State had a losing conference record, fewer overall wins but they had 5 Quad 1 wins and a strength of schedule ranked 82nd. NC State had only 3 Quad 1 wins and their SOS was 343rd!

What Will it Take to Get In?

Staying in the top 50 NET would be significant, but can they still get in with fewer than 20 wins? When looking at which teams were in and which teams were out the NET ranking was not exactly a consistent indicator. But of all the at-large teams that got in, every one of them had 20 wins.

Considering the Gopher’s non-conference performance, 20 wins is going to be very difficult. Even if they get to 19 wins in the regular season, that would require a 9-4 record in their final 13 games. If that happens, there is no need to even talk about the bubble, we would likely be a favored seed if we finished 13-7 in the Big Ten this year. I don’t see us getting to 19 wins.

The debate among those writing for TDG is whether or not the team needs to get to 10 or 11 Big Ten wins. For almost any other team a 10-10 Big Ten record would be more than enough to get into the NCAA Tournament. Remember, Ohio State made it with an 8-12 conference record last year. But would a 10-10 B1G record plus our incredibly high SOS be enough to overcome the fact that we’d be sitting at 16-14 overall? Personally, I don’t think so. But we would certainly be in the conversation heading into Selection Sunday.

My gut tells me that we have to get to 11 Big Ten wins. A “winning” Big Ten record, an overall record of 17-13, a top 40 NET and a top 10 SOS would probably be enough.

Then you always have the Big Ten Tournament. This is where if you finish 10-10, you can win 2 or 3 games and get yourself over that bubble. If you finish 11-9, you can snag one more win to breath a little easier. But despite admirably playing a challenging non-conference schedule, this team still has to finish AT LEAST 10-10 in the league to get themselves in.

How do they get there?

Well currently this team is 4-3 in league play. At a minimum they need 6 more wins, likely 7. This is where I lament that the Purdue loss in double OT would have been huge. But based on KenPom win probability here is how I break down the remaining schedule (listed in no particular order).

LIKELY WINS (5)

  • Wisconsin (59% win probability)
  • Iowa (53%)
  • Indiana (65%)
  • @Northwestern (63%)
  • Nebraska (88%)

LIKELY LOSSES (4)

  • @Ohio State (24%)
  • Michigan State (46%)
  • @Illinois (37%)
  • @Wisconsin (34%)

SWING GAMES (4)

  • @Rutgers (36%)
  • Maryland (50%)
  • @Indiana (40%)
  • @Penn State (39%)

I understand that Michigan State at home has a higher probability than some of the other games listed and @Rutgers is less likely than @Illinois. KenPom win probability is not an absolute indicator, I’m also factoring in a little bit that playing @Illinois is more challenging than @Rutgers in my opinion. Both will be tough places to grab a win.

So the Gophers must get 7 wins out of those remaining 13. Can it be done? If they win all 5 of those “likely wins” then they only need 2 from the other 8.

I think that is the path to the NCAA Tournament. Get to an 11-9 Big Ten regular season record, get 1 win in the Big Ten Tournament and I think this team finds a way into the NCAA Tournament. We may be playing in Dayton for the first time, but getting in is getting in.