When Iowa won against Nebraska on Saturday shortly after the Gophers completed their second consecutive loss – at Purdue – the combination locked Minnesota into a 9-seed in the Big Ten tournament, which starts Thursday in Chicago.
Their opponent was determined today, after Illinois lost 68-55 at Ohio State.
Now the seeds for the 7-9 spots look like this:
That loss put the Gophers in a three-way tie with the Illini and Purdue, each with an 8-10 finish in the league. Tie-breakers for seeds are determined by looking at the total head-to-head between all of the involved teams. Purdue therefore get the nod for the seventh seed because of their 2-1 record against Illinois and Minnesota (The Boilermakers being helped by the fact that they played the Gophers just once this season). Illinois split against both teams, going 2-2, while Minnesota was 1-2 (updated).
So a little bit of scheduling luck for Purdue, but hey, if you win your games, you don’t have to worry about such things.
Want a silver lining? Here it is: one of Smith’s bright spots in Minnesota is that his teams have generally performed well in the Big Ten tournament.
The Gophers have won at least one game in the tournament in every year Smith has coached at Minnesota except one.
Last season, the Gopher won just one game (against Northwestern), but then challenged a talented Michigan team before letting their second-rounder slip away. The year before, Minnesota lost in the opening round, but the season before (2009-10), the Gophers plowed all the way to the conference title game before getting blown out by Ohio State. In 2007-08, the Gophers won a pair.
You could expand the success to strong performances on neutral courts in general. This season, the Gophers beat then-No. 19 Memphis, and Stanford in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Two years ago, the Gophers beat an eighth-ranked North Carolina team in the Puerto Rico tip-off, eventually winning the tournament with a victory over West Virginia.
Can that carry over to the conference tournament this season or even the Big Dance, where the Gophers will almost surely get their third berth in the Tubby reign, but are still without a win in that era?
At this point, Minnesota will need a strong performance in the conference tournament if they hope for anything better than a double-digit seed. It would be tough for the Gophers to fall off the bubble – unless there are a very significant number of teams not currently in the field that win their league tournaments, thus pushing the Gophers further to the edge. With the strength of the Gophers’ resume – they have five wins against ranked teams and 12 wins against top-100 RPI teams – even three consecutive losses wouldn’t be enough to eliminate them.