Taken in digestible bites, there is not much shame in this Gophers men's basketball season. Actually, in fact, there is a lot of accomplishment. They have 12 wins against teams in the CBSsports.com RPI top 100, making Minnesota's RPI nearly bulletproof for now. It didn't even move an inch after the loss to Ohio State. They are the only team in the RPI top 50 with as many as nine losses, but they still sit at No. 15 as of Thursday afternoon. It's just one device to measure strength over the course of a season -- but flawed as it might be, it's a number that has traditionally mattered.
What we are gleaning from Twitter, from online comments and good old fashioned face-to-face conversations, however, is this: Gophers fans might have taken all of this information and swallowed it more easily -- still viewed the season through a glass-is-still-half-full lens -- if not for one major problem: They have already tasted this type of season too many times. Consider:
The 2010-11 Gophers entered February 16-5 and 5-4 in the Big Ten, with solid wins over North Carolina, West Virginia and a then top-10 Purdue team. Injuries and lackluster play led to a 1-6 month of February. The Gophers never won a game after that, missing the NCAA and NIT altogether.
The 2011-12 Gophers were 16-6 entering February and 4-5 in the Big Ten. They had won four of five games to crawl back into contention, the last victory in January being an OT thriller over Illinois. They then went 1-7 in February, somewhat salvaging their season with a burst to the NIT title game.
The 2012-13 Gophers were 16-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten entering February. They had lost momentum after a hot start, but their losses were still competitive. In February, they are 2-4. The two wins were squeakers at home that involved late heroics. The last two losses have been road blowouts by a combined 47 points at Iowa and Ohio State. Their final game of February comes Tuesday at Williams Arena against No. 1-ranked Indiana.
That all adds up to 4-17 the past three seasons in February. They likely will make the NCAA tourney, with three very winnable games after Indiana. Win three of their final four regular-season games and they are a virtual NCAA lock. Win two and one more in the Big Ten tournament, and they still should be in.
But what we're hearing from fans now is that it's not so much about in or out of the NCAA. It's about the look and feel of a team that was supposed to be different from past years but instead seems very much the same in the depths of winter.