In a year where the Gophers had reasonable expectations of building on a semi-successful inaugural campaign for Richard Pitino, the past six weeks have been particularly disheartening. What, with an 0-5 start to the conference season, a loss to Penn State and seven total conference losses by a combined 33 points. That’s enough to keep everyone’s knives locked away.
Is it possible to battle back from an 0-5 deficit and still make the NCAA Tournament? Technically, yes, it is. Though the Gophers didn’t do themselves any favors by dropping winnable games on the road to Nebraska and Penn State — two beatable conference opponents.
Now, with seven games left and a sporty 4-7 Big Ten record, Minnesota is clinging to the mathematical hope that they can somehow rack up nine wins in the conference and return to their rightful place on the bubble. The question is, how do they get there? Blind optimism, that’s how.
As crazy as it sounds, Minnesota’s profile isn’t THAT bad. No, really. Their RPI sits at 90, with five games remaining against teams in the top 50. And, technically, they haven’t had a bad loss all year. Their wins aren’t anything to write home about, but that’s just how it is. Finishing 9-9 in the Big Ten, though, would add a handful of solid wins to their resume, which ought to give them a solid argument for being in the tournament.
Here’s the thing, though. To get to nine wins the team needs five more conference victories. Three home games remain, two of which are against Northwestern and Penn State. I mean, come on, right? The third? Just some team from Wisconsin. The real trick comes with their remaining four road games. If we’re talking blind optimism, this is where things get a little hairy. Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin — that’s where they gotta travel to. If we assume (and that’s a big assumption) that the Gophers win their three home games, that means they need to take two of the four road contests just to be in the bubble conversation. Eesh, right? And when you factor in that they haven’t yet won on the road this season, well … there ya go. But, hey, who said optimism was grounded in reason? They gotta win on the road at SOME point, right?
So, five wins in the next seven games. That’s what needs to happen. Four of the next five are on the road, where the team has underachieved tremendously.