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Minnesota Basketball Big Ten Tournament: Gophers path to the NCAA Tournament

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There is only one path to the NCAA Tournament, win the Big Ten Tournament as the 12-seed

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Minnesota David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a month ago the Gophers beat Wisconsin at home by 18. The win put Minnesota to 6-6 in the Big Ten and 12-10 overall and things were looking good for a run to the NCAA Tournament. Then the rest of February happened. The Gophers finished 2-6 beating only Northwestern and Nebraska. Of those 6 losses, 5 of them were very close with the Gophers unable to hold leads in at home against Iowa, Indiana and Maryland (ugh, Maryland). And even late leads at Wisconsin and Iowa.

But almost winning is still a loss and the Gophers finished 8-12 in the Big Ten, good enough to be the 12-seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament. Leaving themselves 1 path to get into the NCAA Tournament...win the Big Ten Tournament.

Being such a low seed will require them to win 5 games in 5 days. This is going to be a challenge. But as Brian Butch pointed out yesterday on the broadcast, a Big Ten Tournament run isn’t out of the question for the Gophers because the pieces are there.

A 12-seed has never reached the championship game of the BTT and the Gophers as a program have been there once, losing to Ohio State back in 2010 as the 6-seed.

Must win 5 games in 5days and we know the opponent for the first three games. Here is the path.

Game 1 - Northwestern

WHEN: Wednesday 6:00
WATCH: BTN

The Wildcats are really just not very good this year. They are coming off a regular season win over Penn State. But the Gophers went to Evanston and won by 26. I won’t spend much time on this game because the Gophers have shown that they tend to beat teams who play poor defense and teams where there is an obvious talent gap. And frankly, if we can’t win this game then the rest of this post is moot.

KenPom gives us a 79% chance of winning. I think that’s a good bet.

Prediction: Gophers win by 17

Game 2 - Iowa

WHEN: Thursday ~3:30
WATCH: BTN

Not a huge fan of this matchup. Luka Garza was a beast in their last meeting, scoring 41% of Iowa’s points. Hopefully Richard Pitino doesn’t begin the game with Alihan Demir guarding the Iowa center. That was not a great decision.

Can the Gophers win this one? Sure. They led for most of the game at home (they were completely destroyed at Iowa, but that was in December so I’ll choose to ignore that game) and it took an 11-0 Iowa run for the Hawkeyes to steal this game in Minneapolis.

Iowa has lost 3 of their last 4, so they may not exactly be coming into Indianapolis all that hot. This is the Big Ten’s most efficient offense so this game starts with making things difficult for the Hawkeyes. Someone defend Garza without fouling and everybody else has to get to shooters.

Prediction: Gophers win by 3

Game 3 - Illinois

WHEN: Friday ~3:30
WATCH: BTN

We only the Illini once and the Gophers lost by 8 on the road. Daniel Oturu had a monster game but the rest of the team played poorly. Minnesota’s 2nd leading scorer was Demir with 8, if that doesn’t tell you something about how everyone else played, then you’ve not paid much attention to this team in 2019-20. As a team they shot 3/19 from three and Payton Willis did not play. And if you recall the game recap, we missed a ton of easy baskets as well.

Knowing that this loss was on the road, Willis wasn’t playing and we shot so poorly; one could imagine a scenario where the Gophers could pull this one out. Now, this would be game three in three days so fatigue is going to be setting in. I’d rather play Illinois before Iowa, but we don’t get that choice. Can the Gophers win three straight in the BTT? I think they can.

Prediction: Gophers win by 7

Game 4 - Wisconsin / Rutgers / Michigan

WHEN: Saturday 1:00
WATCH: CBS

Now we aren’t entirely sure who we play and to be honest, I think I’d rather take on Wisconsin. Rutgers is a different team away from home, but their defense really scares me. Their defense is hard to score on, it’s a really bad matchup for this particular Gopher team.

Michigan is a team that only kind of scares me. If they are shooting well, then forget about it. But if not, they really don’t scare me. This was the one game where the Gophers really closed out a game, finishing on an 11-0 run to win by 8.

Wisconsin, in both matchups, really didn’t scare me. I know this is a preposterous statement, but I’d choose Wisconsin over the other two teams.

But the ultimate point is that all three are beatable. Once again fatigue is going to be a real factor at this point and we very well could lose by 20 to any of the three.

Prediction: Gophers...cause at this point, why not? By this point we are going to need a new hero every game. Maybe this is the game Gabe Kalscheur blows up as it becomes clear that Marcus Carr is hitting a wall. But someone will have to get hot and support Oturu from the perimeter.

Game 5 - unknown (7 possible teams with MSU or Maryland as most likely)

WHEN: Sunday 3:30
WATCH: CBS

Most likely facing Michigan State or Maryland. Maybe Purdue or Ohio State goes on a run, but let’s assume it’ll be the 2 or 3 seed. This is probably when the dream comes to an end.

Prediction: If it’s Michigan State? We lose by 22. Maryland and I think we lose by 10-12, as much because we are going to be TIRED. Anybody else? Let’s go Dancing!

Realistically this is about the best possible draw for the Gophers. The three teams I’d like most to avoid are MSU, Maryland and Indiana. This is an extreme long shot, of course. But start shooting well and this team can play with anybody.

It is March and basketball in March is glorious.