First off, a belated congratulations to the entire Gopher men’s basketball team for showing up to play against the seething, tenacious 2009-2010 Iowa Hawkeyes. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have surprised even the most skeptical of Gopher fans had Minnesota dropped the season finale on Senior Night against arguably the worst team in the conference. Such has been the season.
However, the Gophers did not lose. They won. Big. And finished the regular season an NIT-worthy 18-12. They officially start the postseason on Thursday against an underrated Penn State team with nothing to lose. A scary team to have to face in the first round for sure, but an opponent the Gophers should handle (heard that one before?). And who would’ve thought that after all of the ups and downs of the season that Minnesota would still be involved in the bubble conversation. In fact, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicts the Gophers would just miss inclusion in the tournament were the committee to select the field today.
What does this mean? It means the Gophers still have a chance….somehow. It doesn’t matter how or why, but Minnesota’s Big Dance dreams still have a pulse. Head-scratchingly enough, Lunardi predicts the Illinois Fighting Illini, a team with an identical record that the Gophers beat on the road, will make the tournament. How that makes any sense is a different argument, but the point is that national analysts believe that the Gopher resume is strong enough to warrant bubble talk. *high five*
Before we pop the champagne and put on the party hats, it’s important to recognize that the Gophers are still on the outside looking in. They currently haven’t accomplished quite enough to make the field of 65 as it stands today and have to do a bit of winning in order to turn that sentiment around. But the million dollar question is this:
What do the Gophers need to do to get selected?
I tend to think it’s pretty simple, at least on paper. Beat Penn State and then beat Michigan State. I’m not going to break down the entire Goofer Gopher resume, but two wins is 20 in total for the season. A win over Michigan State (RPI:25) gives the team quality wins over Ohio State, Butler, Wisconsin and Illinois in addition to the hypothetical victory over the Spartans. That’s a lot of good wins.
Of course, it’s easy to say and extraordinarily difficult to do, but a win over Michigan State is not too much to ask. Anyone can beat anyone in the Big Ten and I strongly believe that a win over the Spartans in the Big Ten Tournament enhances the Gopher profile to a point where it will be well-received by the Selection Committee on Sunday. Of course, it’s easy to overlook a team like Penn State, so taking care of business in the first round of the the Big Ten tourney is essential.
Until then, keep hoping for quick Illinois, Memphis and Arizona State exits in their tournaments. We need all the help we can get.