This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Five tidbits as I prepare to fill out my bracket. Hope it's better than last year's debacle.
1. In case you missed it, after all of the 68 NCAA tournament teams were announced last night, the University of Minnesota still hadn't heard its name. It wasn't until about an hour and a half later that the Gophers did. As a No. 1 seed in the NIT, Minnesota was named first. However, it doesn't appear that the Gophers were close to an NCAA berth. Committee chairman Ron Wellman said Minnesota wasn't even in the first four out grouping.
2. First things first. All of your NCAA tournament tip times. Check out the NIT bracket here. The Gophers play their first game vs. High Point (former coach Tubby Smith's alma mater, by the way) at 7:15 on Tuesday at Williams Arena. Tickets are $20 and will be released to the general public today at 5 p.m. (You can purchase now if you are a season ticket holder.)
3. The Gophers were left out. But otherwise, the Big Ten had six teams earn NCAA tournament bids last night: Wisconsin (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (4), Ohio State (6), Nebraska (11) and Iowa (11 in the First Four). Think the Spartans were seeded too low? So does BTN.com. Plus other analyses of the conference in the Big Dance.
4. Need some help with your bracket? Give the ESPN bracket predictor a try. You enter the matchup; it crunches the numbers for you.
5. Other tourney stuff: ESPN's pick center. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi's guide for all 68 teams. The CBS sports' crew breaks down the entire field. NBC Sports' Rob Dauster on potential national champs. Vegas likes Florida, by the way.
"I will say, the last NIT run ended up being a lot of fun, mysteriously. Some good could come from another one. #gophers" -- @FromTheBarn
"Looks as though Wichita State is gonna have to play some people now" -- @GoodmanESPN
"Tough to watch but keep your heads up @GopherBBall still some basketball to be played!" @TMbakwe32
Here we are.
The moment that every season builds to, strives for, hopes to be relevant for, has arrived.
Selection Sunday is here, and after an exciting Saturday night of hoops, the University of Minnesota's position on the bubble is still as tenuous as ever.
The results of yesterday's slate of games went about as well as could be expected from a maroon-and-gold perspective. No real bid-affecting upsets in the conference tournaments shook up the bracket dramatically. The ACC, the A-10, the SEC and the Big Ten championships are all being played amongst teams who are in regardless.
Still, nearly all the predictions I've seen still have the Gophers on the outside looking in. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Gophers as the second team out. CBS Sports' Jerry Palm has Minnesota as the third out. The one exception is this site, which gives the Gophers a 73.87 percent chance at making it (hat tip to gopherhole.com for originally finding that link).
"I hope we get into the NCAA tournament," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said after Minnesota's loss to Wisconsin on Friday. "I feel that we played one of the best schedules in the country, and that's normally what they want you to do. But that being said, whatever tournament we are in ... I'm proud of how hard these guys have played this whole year."
Other teams in similarly shaky spots include Florida State, California, Arkansas, Missouri, Xavier, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Dayton, Nebraska, Southern Miss, BYU and maybe even Iowa.
You've heard all the arguments both ways for Minnesota's fate. The Gophers have an outstanding strength of schedule and a solid RPI, but lack success on the road or a good record against teams in the RPI top-50. At this point, it's up to the committee to see something it likes in the Gophers. Ending the year on such an ugly game doesn't help -- even if it's not weighed more heavily, a finish like that will stick in the voters' brains. And the two previous games, both against Penn State, should inspire much awe either.
"The top-10 strength of schedule is terrific, but that only goes so far," CBS Sports' college basketball analyst Jeff Borzello said. "You need to back it up with some meat to the resume, and there's just not a lot. The top-50 record and record away from home certainly won't wow you."
The selection show will be broadcast on CBS at 5 p.m. CT.
"I think it's possible #gophers get a bid today. I'd call it 30/70 yes/no." -- @RandBall
"I feel much better about the #gophers program this selection sunday than a year ago, regardless of what the committee does." -- @FromTheBarn
"Feels like the biggest toss-up for ~ four at-larges in a decade. Combined with 1-seed speculation, this is a rare kind of Selection Sunday." -- @MattNorlander
"I'm higher on Cal than most bracketologists, but I think I'll end up having them and Minnesota as my last two out." -- @jeffborzello
"Remember, Minnesota's top player, Andre Hollins, missed loss to Northwestern at home and also loss at Nebraska due to ankle injury." -- @GoodmanESPN
The Gophers did themselves no favors with a loss to Wisconsin on Friday, but despite the loss, Minnesota is still clinging to a slim chance at making the NCAA tournament field.
Several things would need to go the Gophers way today in order to keep them relevant.
Florida and Virginia (locks already) helped the Gophers out already by beating a couple of bubble teams in Tennessee and Pittsburgh. The Panthers likely will slide in anyway, but their future is certainly less certain with the loss.
As of now, both ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm have the Gophers sitting on the wrong side of the bubble, but the former doesn't have them too far away from slipping in. Minnesota is just the second team out of the field on Lunardi's S-curve.
And Minnesota's resume still contains some intriguing elements. Even after falling to the Badgers, the Gophers' RPI is 49, a respectable ranking. If they do dance, it will likely be their fifth-ranked strength of schedule that carries them there.
Of course, the Gophers would also need a scenario in which very few teams not expected to get an at-large bid upset to win their tournament championships. We see several of those every year, and more than a couple of such wins could ruin any linger opportunity for Minnesota.
A few other games that could affect the Gophers chances today:
St. Bonaventure - St. Joe's: The latter is probably in the tournament at this point, but it's not a sure thing. A win would probably lock up their chances while a loss would make a Gophers leap-frog possible.
Duke - NC State: The Wolfpack is farther out on the bubble than Minnesota is, but a victory would put them in the championship game and add another unexpected automatic qualifier.
Creighton - Providence: The Friars are just barely in the field. Losing to Creighton would push them closer to the bubble; winning would give them an automatic bid.
Now, the NCAA selection committee will decide.
Friday, after the Gophers' rough loss to Wisconsin, which knocked Minnesota out of the Big Ten tournament, the team is on very tenuous ground heading into Selection Sunday.
CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm and ESPN's Joe Lunardi each had the Gophers watching from home in their tournament predictions this morning.
It's hard to believe Minnesota's first-round win over Penn State, in combination with their conference resume, will be enough.
The Gophers lack impressive wins away from home, beating only Richmond in the non-conference schedule, Penn State and Northwestern in the Big Ten slate and then the Nittany Lions once more on Thursday. Iowa's tumble has also hurt them. With the Hawkeyes dropping out of the top-50 on Friday morning, the Gophers have just two victories in that category. Those being enough to make the committee overlook a handful of bad losses seems unlikely.
A win on Friday probably would make the Gophers a favorite to at least participate in the First Four.
At this point, however, it seems Minnesota would need the perfect storm involving other bubble teams to slide in.
Yet, while the Gophers were obviously disappointed on Friday, they seemed far from crushed. The general theme seemed to be that they feel their season was ultimately successful and that they deserve to dance.
If not, they'll head to the NIT intent to win it, Andre Hollins said.
"The opportunity to play, to continue to play when [not everyone] else in the country is, that's huge right there," Andre Hollins said. "That's key. To keep getting better, competing. That's all you can ask for, to keep playing basketball."
At many times, the Gophers seemed primed to make an NCAA tournament type run. Throughout the year, Minnesota showed sparks of invigorating offense and huge improvements in a couple of key areas -- most notably at the point guard spot and in the frontcourt. The Gophers had a few wins that seemed huge at the time, including Iowa victory that almost instantly began to dull.
But defensive lapses, an affinity for turnovers and overall consistency were ultimately the downfall.
Pitino said on Friday he's still hoping that the Gophers sixth-ranked strength of schedule
nationally will hold a lot of weight in the decisions.
"We played one of the best schedules in the country, and that's normally what they want you to do," he said. "That being said, whatever tournament we are in, I'm proud -- we're disappointed tonight, but I'm proud of how hard these guys have played this whole year."
Read my full game story on the 63-56 win over Penn State here.
This one was not the inspiring outing the Gophers had in their regular-season finale, or the raucous victory they had two games earlier, vs. Iowa (inconveniently helping to start an epic Hawkeyes tumble).
But the Penn State downing got the job done, and now Minnesota advances, getting an opportunity to face border-rival Wisconsin. A win tomorrow would probably spell an entry to the NCAA tournament. That other pesky bubble teams (Arkansas, California, Utah) lost tonight doesn’t hurt either.
On to the good and the bad:
*Austin Hollins has completely reversed his slump and then some. The senior went from seemingly being unable to toss a quarter into an open trash can to looking as dominant as he has in the Big Ten, in his career. With his game-high 18 points tonight, he has now compiled 75 in the last four games. It’s a pretty great time for him to go on a tear.
*Andre Hollins sat for long periods because of foul trouble, but then he came up big when Minnesota needed him, hitting that huge three-pointer with 15 seconds left to seal the win. The Gophers haven’t always shown they have a player who wants to and feels the burden to step up in those late-game moments, and his take-charge attitude was clutch. Will this spur a tear from this Hollins? Minnesota can only hope.
*Pretty good defense. In the last two games, the Gophers have held Penn State to .97 points per possession or fewer. But working that same magic against Wisconsin will be the real test.
*They continued their strong ball handling trend. In the last three games, Minnesota has had 12 turnovers or fewer. That might be the single most positive recent development.
*It wasn’t the most convincing win ever. The Gophers had those goofy stretches where they got sloppy, as we’ve seen plenty this season. They let Penn State ebb and flow; make run after run until the final run that nearly lost the game for Minnesota. A killer instinct has been lacking for most of the season.
*Minnesota allowed 15 offensive rebounds. We’ve seen this before too. The Gophers get lax on that end sometimes, getting lazy on the long rebounds, where Penn State really hurt them on Thursday. Against a better team, this could have been a big problem, but as it is, the Nittany Lions netted 13 second-chance points.
*Malik Smith is still not back. He made a huge three-pointer in the first half, but it was sandwiched between three other absolutely terrible shots, including an air ball. He’s trying to shoot himself out of this slump so badly, and to some extent you have to do that as a player. But Thursday, his shot selection was really hurting the team early.
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