It is the favorite topic of the conversation of the moment:
Will the Gophers make the NCAA tournament?
And if so, WHY?
Nothing seems to mobilize fans to speak up more than a team teetering on the verge of collapse – I know this is true at least for Gophers fans because the emails piling into my inbox have at least quadrupled and constantly threat to kill my iphone battery. I can also state for the record that there have been a record number of exclamation points and all-caps sentences (you guys know I don’t work for the university and can’t actually influence any decisions, right?)
Certainly, the Gophers have given their followers enough reasons to be skeptical and frustrated – losing four of their last five and tumbling from a team in the conversation of Big Ten title, to one that is currently tied for seventh in the league with Iowa.
But as I wrote in yesterday’s Star Tribune , the Gophers still will almost surely get an entry to the Big Dance. That article has the details, but I wanted to post some leftover thoughts here.
I chatted with CBS Sports college basketball writer, Jeff Borzello – who went to this year’s mock selection in Indy – and here’s the jist:
- The Gophers extremely tough schedule – now ranked No. 1 in the country according to RPI – does wonders. Their non-conference competition was lax enough for them to run the gamut but tough enough to look good on paper. They have 11 top-100 wins and four in the top-50, while a team like Ohio State has just two top-50 wins. And Minnesota has only seven below 100, while a team like Michigan State has 13.
- Minnesota played on the road and has played well on the road to an extent. Half of their four top-25 wins were on the road. There are plenty of respected teams – like Florida – that do not have two top-25 wins on the road.
- Playing in the Big Ten doesn’t hurt. Even their losses, for the most part, are quality. In the eyes of the NCAA selection committee, right now, the Gophers really only have one bad loss – that is, one loss outside the RPI top-100, and that was at Northwestern.
- Margin of victory is also rarely discussed, Borzello said, giving the Gophers a relief from the past two blowouts by Iowa and Ohio State . “[The committee] value[s] what you’ve done over how you’ve done it,” he said.
The committee also doesn’t actually add any added weight to the way a team finishes the season (an aspect which was put in place because teams don’t have any control over which opponents they will face in which months), which should help boost the Gophers resume.
At the same time, the process is not run by computers. One of the things the committee has boasted about in recent years is how they review and consider all sides of things. Just because there isn’t a factor to put greater emphasis on a teams’s finishing slate, doesn’t mean the Gophers’ regression is a moot point.
“They can look at whatever they want,” Borzello said, and do, often perusing other ranking systems or looking at off-book material.
Still, it’s tough to come up with a scenario in which the Gophers would miss, Borzello said.
CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm, who I also spoke with on the topic noted just how well-off the Gophers are comparatively.
“You’ve got to look at some of the weaker teams at the bottom of this bracket,” Palm said. “There would definitely be room for Minnesota somewhere. They might not like their seed – they might be a double-digit seed, but I don’t think they’re in danger of missing unless they lose the next [four].
“They put a team in last year, in Iona, that had five bad losses and didn’t really have a whole lot of good wins.”
Palm said that as long as the Gophers win their home game against Penn State and their road game against Nebraska – even if they lose the Indiana game, the Purdue game and the first round of the Big Ten tournament (as long as it’s a loss to a top-100 team and not another loss to Northwestern, for example) – they should be safe.
But “If they start losing to the Nebraskas, and the Purdues of the world, then we have a problem,” he said.
Right now, Palm’s only prediction is that the Gophers would be seeded somewhere between 9 and 12 if they lose all games except Nebraska and Purdue – and slightly higher if they win more.
Currently, the Gophers are a 7-seed in Palm’s bracket.