Gophers coach Tubby Smith called yesterday's loss at Iowa 'embarrassing" and "as disappointing a loss as I've ever had," which puts his comments on par with pretty much anyone in Gophers-land who watched a 21-5 lead turn into a 72-51 loss -- one which wiped out any momentum and good vibes that might have carried over from an overtime victory Thursday over Wisconsin. In their last five losses, Minnesota hasn't topped 53 points. Embarrassing, indeed.
You might be wondering at this point how precarious Minnesota's NCAA tournament position is (instead of wondering, as you did just a month ago, how far this team can go WHEN it makes the field as a high seed). Well, it appears to take a lot to drill into Minnesota's nearly bulletproof RPI, a measure of teams that takes a lot of factors including strength of schedule, quality wins, bad losses, etc., only dropped two spots yesterday, from No. 13 to No. 15 in the country.
You prefer ESPN's BPI? Minnesota dropped four spots, from No. 10 to No. 14.
Last year, the highest RPI among teams who missed the NCAA tournament was 43. The highest among major conference teams to miss the tourney was 57.
In other words, the Gophers have a lot of work to do to regain their swagger. But they also have a LOT of work to do to miss the tournament entirely. Their next two games are at Ohio State and home against Indiana. Lose both and their RPI, we're guessing, will barely move more than a handful of spots. Win one of them, and it might move up a tick or two. The final three are home against Penn State, at Nebraska and at Purdue, three of the lowest RPI teams in the Big Ten, all checking in at 100 or lower. A loss in one of those games would knock Minnesota down, but not past the 20s we would imagine. So let's say Minnesota loses its next two, wins at home against Penn State and splits the road games at Nebraska and Purdue to finish 20-11 overall pre-Big Ten tourney and 8-10 in the conference. Their position might be a bit precarious, but one win in the BT tourney would pretty much lock a spot down, we imagine. A loss in the first round to a mediocre team? Well, that would certainly put them on the bubble, but they would STILL have an RPI, we would imagine, at least 15-20 spots higher than the major conference team with the highest RPI that missed last year.
Of course, just getting into the tournament shouldn't be good enough this year. But once Minnesota is there, anything could happen.
Getting in as a 9 or 10 seed, of course, might just make people angrier than missing the dance altogether.