A year ago, seven Big Ten teams, including the Gophers, made the NCAA women's basketball tournament field.

And the seven were pretty well known before the conference tournament. Why? They all had low RPIs.

Maryland was No. 6 and won the Big Ten tournament for an automatic spot.

Getting at-large berths were these six: Iowa (No. 9), Ohio St. (No. 26), Northwestern (No. 37), Rutgers (No. 38), Nebraska (No. 41) and the Gophers (No. 46).

Minnesota beat Purdue 82-78 in the Big Ten tournament second round, but lost to Ohio State 83-71 in the quarterfinals. ... Got an eighth seed, then fell to ninth-seeded DePaul 79-72 in a first round NCAA tournament game in South Bend, Ind.

The Gophers finished 23-10, 11-7 in regular-season conference play.

This season Minnesota is 18-7, 10-4 in the Big Ten, alone in third place, but the Gophers need a few upsets to make the NCAAs again. Why? Their RPI is a dismal No. 76 because of a weak nonconference schedule and a weak conference schedule so far. They haven't played the top two teams in the Big Ten Conference yet nor Michigan State tied for fourth and the team with the third-best RPI in the conference. Those are the last three games before the Big Ten tournament.

A rugged stretch, especially with three of the games on the road. The Gophers are 7-1 at home against conference teams, 3-3 on the road.

Only five conference teams look like they have at-large spots locked up: Ohio State (No. 5), Maryland (No. 6), Michigan State (No. 32), Rutgers (No. 41) and probably Indiana (No. 47). ... Even Iowa (No. 57) and Nebraska (No. 69) are closer to the bubble than the Gophers.

The opportunity is there for Minnesota to drop its RPI quite a bit in its last four games, though, all tough: at Indiana, at Michigan State, Ohio State at home, and at Maryland.

They have to get around No. 50 in RPI to be reasonably certain of getting in with one of the 32 at-large berths. Rest of the field is filled with 32 automatic qualifiers who win conference tournaments.

Here's a look at what happened a year ago:

* The top 43 teams in the RPI all made the NCAA tournament, grabbing either automatic or at-large spots.

* Only two teams with RPIs in the 40s were left out: Duquesne (No. 44) and Arkansas State (No. 45). So if the Gophers can get into the 40s in RPI, their chances are good.

* Six teams with RPIs in the 50s were left out: St. Mary's (No. 52), UCLA (No. 53), Michigan (No. 54), Fresno State (No. 57) and Penn (No. 58).

 * The team with highest RPI to make it was LSU (No. 60), just ahead of Iowa State (No. 59). ... Also qualifying were Ohio (No. 50, automatic), Tulane (No. 51), BYU (No. 55, automatic), Miami (Fla.) (No. 56).

Yes, the selection committee looks at other things besides RPI, record vs. other NCAA tournament teams, how team finishes, etc., but RPI is pretty important. And the Gophers at No. 76 have to improve their RPI a lot or win the Big Ten tournament for the automatic bid if they are going to go dancing.