Looking at the Gophers non-conference schedule, and the Big Ten this year, Minnesota probably needs at least nine wins to make the NCAA tournament, and a few signature wins would really help.
Last year, if you’ll remember, Minnesota had wins over five ranked teams: Memphis, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and then top-ranked Indiana. Slipping into the Big Dance with eight conference wins made since – half of them were against teams in the national top 25!
This year, it’s a bit of a different story. Four games into the league slate, the Gophers don’t have any victories against ranked opponents (at this time last year, they’d already collected three). Although taking a team like No. 5 Michigan State to overtime at Breslin Center is nice, it will be quickly glossed over in March.
However, the Gophers have three more very good opportunities to clinch their first signature win in the next week, with the upcoming schedule looking pretty meaty:
Thurs: vs. Ohio State
Sunday: at Iowa
1-2: vs. Wisconsin
To get to nine wins, the Gophers will need at least one of those, and then can afford to win no fewer than six games (of 11) the rest of the way. Here’s what the rest looks like:
1-22: at Nebraska
2-1: vs. Northwestern
2-5: at Purdue
2-8: vs. Indiana
2-13: at Wisconsin
2-16: at Northwestern
2-19: vs. Illinois
2-22: at Ohio State
2-25: vs. Iowa
3-1: at Michigan
3-8: vs. Penn State
As you can see, five home games remain in that stretch. If the Gophers were to win, say, four of them, they would need to grab two road wins. At Northwestern and at Purdue are both winnable, but not very impressive. That scenario would put the Gophers at 9-9 with probably one or two ranked wins. And it’s certainly possible the cards could fall that way.
Would it be enough to push Minnesota into the NCAA tournament? Probably, but the Gophers wouldn’t be too far off the bubble.
Without a win in the next three games, the prospects become infinitely tougher. The Gophers would need to win all of their home games, and also two road games. And, unless the Big Ten adds a few new ranked teams (which is possible), they’d be reliant on snagging a signature win from one of three games: at Wisconsin (yikes), at Ohio State (yikes again) or against Iowa at home. It turns the pressure up significantly.