The Wild has put itself in a rare position among its teams of recent vintage: after years of slumps and scrambles, there doesn’t figure to be any guesswork as to whether Minnesota will make the postseason. It’s all about seeding now, and even that looks quite promising.
The Gophers men’s basketball team — guilty, too, of so often going down to the wire to either make or miss the NCAA tournament — now has a chance to also eliminate any guesswork thanks to a four-game winning streak that has included two dramatic victories at Williams Arena, the most recent a 75-74 thriller over Indiana on Wednesday.
Without a truly elite team in the Big Ten, the Gophers are part of a cluster of seven teams projected by ESPN to make the tournament — all seeded between No. 5 and No. 10. One of those projected No. 10 seeds is Michigan, which plays at Williams Arena on Sunday in another important game for the Gophers.
Still, this much is true: They are firmly in the tournament as of now. And there aren’t really any singular “must-win” games along the way, at least not now. Similarly, no potential losses out of Michigan, at Maryland, Penn State, Nebraska and at Wisconsin would be particularly damaging.
In the previous nine seasons, the Gophers finished either 8-10 or 9-9 five times in the Big Ten. Those are the high water marks. Three of those seasons resulted in narrow NCAA tourney bids. Two ended in narrow NCAA misses.
Two more wins in their last five regular season games should be plenty to keep them off the bubble and in the tourney — safely at 9-9. But three or more? Ah, that would create some more of that breathing room Gophers teams rarely seem to find — not to mention the first winning season in the Big Ten since Dan Monson was in charge in 2004-05.