March Madness tournament build up – Do the Gophers make the cut?

February 24, 2021

With just a handful of games remaining in the Big Ten basketball regular season, heads are turning towards the impending March Madness tournament but for the Golden Gophers, making the tournament might not be so simple.

The Gophers have not been making the selection process an easy one for themselves lately, winning only three of their last 11 games at the time of this article being published, albeit one of those wins coming against now 3rd-ranked Michigan. They have still yet to shake off their away game demons and have not won a game on the road this entire season, going 0-8 on their travels. The Barn may have some powerful mojo, but when you are not winning on the road it is very hard to impress the selection committee even with the impressive wins that the Gophers have earned in this topsy-turvy season.

Wins against ranked teams have come in abundance for the Gophers this year, they have an impressive resume of wins against the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue most recently. These wins have kept the Gophers in the conversation for the national tournament and are the main bullet point on the University of Minnesota resume, but what more do they offer past those few wins?

As mentioned previously, the Gophers have gone on a terrible streak to close out the season, winning three in the last 11 games and some of those losses are less than impressive. In this run, the Gophers lost to Maryland (14-10) twice, with a combined score of 135-108, a very comparable team to Minnesota due to their records this year. Even more recently, Minnesota has suffered close losses to Indiana and Rutgers (both away from the Barn) and these losses have hurt the Gophers’ stock massively as both teams have been hovering around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten all season.

Before Big Ten play, the Gophers gathered a quality win against tournament-quality Saint Louis in a blistering 90-82 win in which Marcus Carr scored a massive 32 points and went 14/19 from the free throw line. Also on their resume is the win against Michigan State. Listed as a ranked win, the Gophers can count themselves fortunate because right after that win where Michigan State were ranked 17th in the nation, they took a nose dive and now are under the Gophers in the Big Ten standings.

In his latest round of predictions made on Jan. 23, Bracketology and March Madness expert Andy Katz puts Minnesota at around a 10-seed range or more specifically, at rank 37 out of the 68 teams making the tournament this year. This prediction marks Katz’s opinion even after the disappointing losses to Illinois, Indiana and Maryland so for Gopher fans, there is still a great deal of hope. Although merely predictions, Minnesota still lies comfortably within the 68 spots available and has some credibility simply for playing in the ultra-competitive Big Ten conference.

For now however, the Gophers seem to be in control of their own destiny and the message is clear, just keep winning.

For context, teams also among Katz’s 68 but below Minnesota include Drake (23-2), Boise State (18-4) and St. Bonaventure (11-3), teams who also sit atop their respective conferences. These are impressive records in their own rights however due to their level of competition, are overlooked by the selection committee in favor of a more seasoned and competitive team like that of the Gophers. With this in mind, Gopher fans should feel at least a small sense of security that their beloved team will be in this year’s installment of March Madness.

With the Big Ten season coming down to the wire, much of Minnesota’s tournament odds hinge on how they perform in the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers have four remaining regular season games at the time of writing, three of them coming against the bottom three teams in the conference so winning those games is imperative but if Minnesota is upset or loses in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, what happens? If Minnesota fails to make it out of the first round, they run the risk of one of the teams around them (Indiana, for example) making it into the final selection over the Gophers, which would be very disappointing for many Gopher fans, and something that should not be happening under Coach Pitino.

For now however, the Gophers seem to be in control of their own destiny and the message is clear, just keep winning.

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