The Minnesota Golden Gophers are your prototypical NCAA tournament bubble team. They have some great wins, yet they also have some really bad losses. Their inconsistent level of play has been maddening, and what was once a terrific offensive team is now greatly struggling to score.
First year Gophers head coach Richard Pitino has seen his team storm out of the gate in each of the past two games. He’s also seen his team collapse in those same two games. Minnesota jumped out to a 14-3 lead last Wednesday at home against Illinois before ultimately dropping that contest, 62-49. And just two nights ago in Columbus, the Gophers took a 28-18 lead into halftime against the Ohio State Buckeyes. In the second half, well, Pitino and company were outscored 46-18.
With just three games remaining on its regular season schedule, Minnesota’s record lies at 17-11 overall and 6-9 in the Big Ten Conference. Hardly earth shattering, but still rather solid. The Gophers boast strong, quality wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State–in the two team’s first meeting earlier this year. And that gives them a step up on a large part of this year’s bubble. The win over the Badgers should be huge come Selection Sunday as Bo Ryan‘s squad has the fifth best RPI and rank second in terms of strength of schedule (SOS).
In the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee though, the Gophers’ two best wins actually might come from the non-conference portion of their schedule. Minnesota bested fellow bubble teams winning at Richmond and at home against Florida State. And when those three teams are being assessed, that is certainly something that will work in the favor of the Gophers.
With all things mentioned, Minnesota obviously possesses a strong case to qualify for next month’s NCAA tournament. Add in the fact that its SOS is sixth in the country and the case becomes even stronger. With that said, this next week provides the Gophers with two tremendous opportunities to firmly lock down a spot in the tournament field and forget about all the numbers associated with the selection process.
The first is Tuesday night at home against 20th ranked Iowa. You have to imagine The Barn and Minneapolis will be rocking for that one. Then later in the week on Saturday, a date in Ann Arbor with the conference leading Michigan Wolverines awaits. If the Gophers can split the two, great. If they can grab both, they’ll become a tournament lock.
This week is absolutely crucial for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Now is the time to find out whether this team can ever move off the bubble or not.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27