The same Gophers team that knocked off the then-No. 1 team in the country last week ... the same team that hammered Nebraska earlier this season, scoring 84 points in the process ... that was the same team that played last night.
But it also, as we all know, was not the same team. There are two versions of the Gophers.
Is it as simple as home and away? Minnesota is 7-2 in Big Ten home games but just 1-7 now in conference road games. That said, Minnesota won road games earlier this year against Florida State and USC -- not great teams, but squads comparable to those in the bottom of the Big Ten at least. So it's not quite that simple.
Is it early-season vs. late season? No doubt Minnesota consistently looked like a different team early in the season, when it charged to a 15-1 record and a No. 8 national ranking. But it's not quite that simple, either, because Minnesota showed flashes of its old self as recently as last Tuesday in that beautiful victory over the Hoosiers.
For whatever reason, the Gophers have it in them on any given night to be incredibly good or incredibly bad. Tubby Smith has no answer as to why, which is perhaps a decent portion of the problem.
What we do know is this: As much as people have talked about Minnesota's perch in the NCAA landscape being secure, we are not 100 percent sold yet. A win last night would have sealed it. A win over Purdue or in the Big Ten tournament will seal it. But that loss last night -- while only dropping Minnesota's RPI to 20, still very favorable -- means this:
1) If the Gophers lose at Purdue on Saturday -- the Boilermakers won at Wisconsin over the weekend and nearly beat Michigan last night -- there is a very good chance Minnesota will be the No. 9 seed in the Big Ten tournament. How? Let's say Iowa wins its finale, a home game against Nebraska (decent bet). Let's say Illinois loses its finale at Ohio State (decent bet). Iowa would be 9-9 in the conference and get the No. 6 seed. Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota would all be 8-10. The first tiebreaker in a three-way tie is head-to-head winning percentage among all the teams, and it doesn't matter if one team has faced another fewer times. Purdue would be 2-1 against Minnesota and Illinois. Illinois would be 2-2 against Purdue and Minnesota. The Gophers would be 1-2 against Purdue and Illinois. Purdue would be the No. 7, Illinois the No. 8 and Minnesota the No. 9.
That would help Minnesota in one sense because it would play Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten tourney (seeding goes like this: top 4 get byes, then 5/12, 6/11, 7/10 and 8/9 match up) and even a loss wouldn't be a bad loss. But if the Gophers lost, the committee could look beyond Minnesota's RPI to the overall resume and see this: A 3-7 record in its final 10 games, including three losses in a row. If Iowa made any kind of Big Ten tourney run, that Illinois/Minnesota game could, theoretically, be viewed as a winner-take-all game. Winner is in. Loser is out.
Now, we *think* the Gophers would still get into the NCAA field even if they lose out. But their seed would be in the double-digits for sure -- maybe even a play-in game? -- and the fact that we are even talking about the bubble after a 15-1 start boggles the mind just as much as watching the Gophers play last night did.