Bubble Watch: Minnesota's NCAA Tournament Hopes Take Huge Hit With Loss To Illinois

By Matthew Sturgeon
Illinois Fighting Illini
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois freshman Kendrick Nunn hit five three-pointers en route to a 19-point performance as the Fighting Illini defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 62-49 on Wednesday night in Minneapolis. Illini big man Nnanna Egwu played a terrific game as well, as he chipped in a double-double with 14 points and 11 boards. Andre Hollins had 15 points in the home loss for the Gophers.

At this point in the season, teams can’t afford to add bad losses to their NCAA tournament resumes, yet for Minnesota, that is exactly what happened here tonight. The Gophers, who are now 17-10 overall and 6-8 in Big Ten Conference play, started the game on a 14-3 run. However, after that, things went south in a hurry. First year coach Richard Pitino‘s squad was unable to find any offensive rhythm and the Illini’s stifling D really bothered his team.

Entering the day, the Gophers appeared to be in great shape with regards to securing an NCAA tournament bid, however, losing to the Big Ten’s worst team surely changes that outlook. Minnesota does stack up favorably to other “bubble teams,” as they possess quality in-conference wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State. They also have a pair of solid non-conference wins over fellow bubble teams Richmond and Florida State.

With that said, this was a game the team could just simply not afford to lose. Sitting at 6-8 in conference play isn’t exactly where teams want to find themselves in late February, and the Gophers’ schedule only gets tougher over the next three games, with two on the road at Ohio State and Michigan and one at home with Iowa.

Maybe the Big Ten will only send five teams to the big dance. Wouldn’t that be something?

Matthew Sturgeon is a college basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27

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