Big Ten Tournament: Minnesota Still Living on the BubblePosted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Penn State and Minnesota in Indianapolis.
Entering the conference tournament season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is always a precarious endeavor. Teams have to make sure they don’t drop a game they shouldn’t and even that sometimes is not enough. Minnesota is among those unlucky several on the bubble this week, as the Golden Gophers are striving to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, this year with a new head coach leading the charge. Prior to the start of Thursday’s opener against Penn State, Minnesota was among the “first four out” in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket. The Golden Gophers finished the regular season with a 19-12 overall record, but just an 8-10 record in Big Ten play. Strangely enough, Minnesota also possessed an 8-10 mark in league play last season when the school found itself on the right side of the bubble. Last season’s Golden Gophers were the first Big Ten team with a losing conference record to earn an NCAA Tournament bid since Iowa garnered one with a 7-9 league record back in 2005.
Part of Minnesota’s résumé that will be looked at positively by the committee will be its strength of schedule, as Richard Pitino’s squad has played the fifth most difficult schedule in the country. An area where the team may lose some favor with the committee is in that it suffered a few questionable setbacks. There was the home loss to 13-18 Northwestern, the triple-overtime defeat at 15-17 Purdue, and a home setback to an Illinois squad that finished the regular season with a 7-11 Big Ten record. While there are some troubling defeats on the Gophers’ résumé, there are also several impressive victories over NCAA Tournament locks Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Minnesota did all it could Thursday by scoring a 63-56 victory over Penn State to move it to the Friday quarterfinals where it will battle Wisconsin for the third time this season. Part of life on the NCAA Tournament bubble is seeing how other bubble teams around the country fare in their own tournament action. Minnesota has been fortunate that several of those other bubble teams suffered setbacks this week. Georgetown lost to DePaul on Wednesday; Arkansas lost to South Carolina on Thursday; St. John’s lost to Providence on Thursday; and Cal lost to Colorado on Thursday – to name but four instances.
With a lot of basketball still to be played between now and when the bracket comes out Sunday, there are numerous scenarios that can play out with respect to Minnesota’s potential inclusion in the field of 68. Most of the those scenarios are outside the control of Pitino’s squad, but what they can direct is their performance toward the goal of earning another marquee victory on Friday night against Wisconsin. If the Golden Gophers can notch that key victory, life on the bubble will be much easier as we close in on Selection Sunday.