Rayno: The road to the NCAA tournament

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  • February 11, 2014 - 12:49 PM

The Gophers pulled out the home win over Indiana on Saturday to keep the NCAA tournament conversation alive.

Realistically, Minnesota needs four more conference wins to get a Big Dance berth. A win over the Hoosiers doesn't make it easy, but it does make the journey seem traversable. The Gophers have three more home games. Getting two others on the road would be tough, but snatching one more seems reasonable.

Let's take a look at the road ahead:

at Wisconsin: The Gophers need one really impressive road win. Right now, the ONLY DI victories they have away from home are Richmond way back in the non-conference schedule, and Penn State. This Wisconsin game should be that win. Last time out, the Gophers took advantage of the Badgers' weaker interior defense and showed they are capable of besting their border rival, and Wisconsin's recent surge back into the AP poll would make the victory look more impressive. Pencil it in as a WIN.

at Northwestern: Weirdly, the Wildcats have been much better on the road than they have been at home this year. Maybe that's because their home environment is not really an advantage, and at least on the road, they can get pumped up at the boos. Either way, they've gone 3-2 on the road in the Big Ten and 2-4 at home. Their last THREE losses have been at home. Plus, as surprising as Northwestern has been this season, I don't see the Wildcats beating the Gophers twice. Pencil it in as a WIN.

vs. Illinois: The Illini's win over Indiana to start the season seems long ago. Since then, all Illinois has done is win a pair over Penn State. Put this team at the Barn, and it doesn't stand a chance. Does this mean four-game win streak? Yes, I think so. (Good thing because take a look at the next three.) Pencil it in as a WIN.

at Ohio State: Despite the fact that Penn State claimed its second Big Ten victory of the year there, Value City Arena really is a tough place to play. And perhaps more importantly, the Buckeyes seem to finally be finding the toughest we thought they'd had all year. I'm interested to see how they perform against Michigan tonight, but right now, Ohio State seems to be burgeoning. Pencil it is as a LOSS.

vs. Iowa: Anything can happen in the Big Ten, particularly in a raucous Williams Arena -- and the Barn certainly has been that in the last several home games. But I'm still not sure the Gophers are ready to handle the Hawkeyes' incredibly quick and efficient offense. The defense simply isn't there yet. Pencil it in as a LOSS

at Michigan: The Wolverines are no longer invincible, but they're still one of the most efficient offensive teams out there, and they haven't lost at Crisler Arena all season. The Gophers will keep it closer than they did at Iowa, but they won't have enough to pull out the upset. Pencil it in as a LOSS.

vs. Penn State: If this prediction comes close, it will be a schedule full of runs. A four-game win streak following a three-game losing streak, and the another three-game losing streak down the stretch. But Minnesota was blessed with a gift to cap off the conference schedule -- a home game against Penn State, which the Gophers should take with ease and send them into the conference tournament on a bright note. Pencil it in as a WIN.

Of course, even if the Gophers don't win four more, they will still have some chances to notch some big wins in the Big Ten tournament. It's tough to rely on those neutral court postseason wins, though. To lock it up in the regular season, this is the formula. 

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