Three times last week the Gophers women’s basketball team got together and practiced, not knowing for certain exactly what it was preparing for.
That, frankly, felt strange to all involved.
“Yeah, the whole week has been weird,” Gophers guard Rachel Banham said after Friday’s practice. “I don’t even know, really, how to explain the feeling. A little stressed. You want it to be Monday.’’
Monday the Gophers (20-12, 8-8 Big Ten) will learn if they will receive their first NCAA tournament bid since the 2008-09 season.
With coach Pam Borton away recruiting, last week’s practices were run by the assistant coaches. But after the Gophers beat Wisconsin in overtime in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Borton was asked if the victory was enough to get her team a bid.
“Absolutely,” she said.
The Gophers responded to that victory by playing Nebraska tough before losing in the quarterfinals.
By most accounts the Gophers are on the bubble.
NCAA bracketologist Charlie Creme has the Gophers among the first four teams out in his most recent update.
According to the NCAA RPI rankings, the Gophers are 44th. Rpiratings.com had them 43rd, with a strength of schedule that was 21st in a conference ranked third in the nation. Realtimerpi.com has the Gophers making the tournament in its most recent pairings.
In any event it’s close. The Gophers’ .500 record in a highly rated conference is in their favor. There aren’t many bad losses. But there aren’t any standout victories either. The Gophers, who finished sixth in the Big Ten, were 0-8 against teams that finished first through fifth. The Gophers did not beat anybody with a top-25 RPI.
“We have done what we can,” Banham said. “We have a good RPI, no bad losses.’’
But there is still tension. The team will watch the selection show together.
This is new territory for Banham, a junior who led the Big Ten in scoring. The Gophers were not in the running for a bid in her first two seasons.
“We’re staying positive,” Banham said.
But if it doesn’t happen?
“It would be sad,” Banham said. “We’ve had our hopes up. I know we’d be disappointed. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.”
If the NCAA bid doesn’t come, one to the women’s NIT would certainly follow. If that happens?
“If we don’t make the NCAA, we want to go to the NIT and just get to work,’’ Banham said. “You always have to make a positive out of a negative.”