A tough schedule has given the Gophers a strong Ratings Percentage Index, which is vital to making the NCAA tourney.
The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) might not be specifically discussed in the NCAA committee's tournament selection process, but RPI "hovers over the whole process," CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Borzello said, giving teams with high RPIs a safety net to fall into despite any other persuading negatives.
Count Minnesota as a prime example.
Borzello recently attended a mock selection -- which simulates the NCAA committee's process heading into the Big Dance -- in Indianapolis, combining with about 20 other participants to seed the full field. The Gophers ended up with a No. 5 seed.
Since then, Minnesota has lost twice, but the outcome would likely remain similar because the Gophers' RPI -- still No. 15 in the country -- has been largely unaffected.
How is that possible, you ask?
Despite appearances, and the attitude surrounding the program as it dropped eight of its last 11 games, Minnesota is still incredibly well-off by committee standards, Borzello said.
The Gophers have played an extremely tough schedule in terms of RPI and converted -- winning four games against top-50 opponents and eight more against top-100 opponents based on numbers through Friday. Seven of those 50-100 RPI victories came in the nonconference schedule, when the Gophers notched wins over the likes of Tennessee State and North Dakota State, while also playing top-25 candidates in Duke and Memphis. They played neutral site games in the Battle 4 Atlantis and true road games at Florida State and USC, picking up four victories along the way.
"Even Florida (No. 4 in the RPI) doesn't have two top-50 wins away from home," Borzello pointed out.
Ohio State, even after hammering Minnesota on Wednesday, has just three top-50 victories and only five overall vs. the top 100, while checking in at No. 25 in the RPI.
In terms of "bad" losses, Minnesota only has one in the eyes of the committee -- the one at Northwestern on Jan. 23.
Minnesota has six wins against teams below 100 in the RPI. Michigan State, by contrast, counts 13 such victories among its 21 overall.
"The committee, to me, seems like they value good wins over bad losses," Borzello said.
What's more, Borzello, said, Minnesota's most recent losses -- both by 20-plus points -- are undercut because the committee doesn't pay attention to margin of victory.
"I didn't look at the final score of a single game," Borzello said of the mock process. "If I'm trying to predict how a team will do, yeah, it's different. But [the committee is] picking the most deserving teams; they're not trying to predict the outcome. They value what you've done over how you've done it."
In other words, the Gophers and similar teams are still in prime position thanks to crafty scheduling and timely victories.
"[The Gophers are] a lot safer than I thought they were," Borzello said. "In trying to come up with a scenario in which they don't make the tourney, it's hard to come up with something."
RAYNO'S SHORT TAKES
• Tubby Smith isn't the only coach contemplating ways to help relax players while drawing out their competitive fire. Kentucky coach John Calipari used a game of dodgeball (players vs. staff) heading into a recent game against Vanderbilt, which Kentucky won 74-70. "We're not competing at the level we need to. We don't have the fight in us yet," Calipari said in a video on his website. "Part of that is the anxiety of being a little bit tentative. So we played dodgeball. Dodgeball. So when they were done, I said, 'Why don't you go out on the basketball court and have that much fun playing basketball. You're going to have to play hard, you're going to have to compete against the other team -- but go have fun and play ball.' "
• Discussion about the design of basketball stanchions persists after a second major injury this season came as a result of a player crashing into the padded stanchions that extend down from baskets. After Kentucky's Nerlens Noel tore his ACL last week after crashing into a stanchion and Butler's Rotnei Clarke's head injury earlier this season, some brainstorming for changes has begun. Butler coach Brad Stevens has questioned the design that puts most stanchions in college basketball close to the court.
"I don't know that there's an exact answer," Stevens told the Indianapolis Star. "But we saw one of the scarier moments in college basketball in a long time. ... When it involves a guy that's on your team, it especially pulls and tugs at you."
• The Big Ten has gained such a reputation for being a slow-paced, low-scoring league that fans have taken to saying the "first to 50" will win. But that's not necessarily true, Mark Bashuk at The Big Lead writes. Going back through games since 2008, the Big Ten ranks 11th among conferences in winning percentage for the team that first got to 50 points (if they made it that far). But at the same time, the average points per game needed to win during that span were the fewest of any conference, at 59. That tells me that Big Ten teams don't score much but that games are closer and more unpredictable than we might appreciate.
1. Indiana: If not for the crazy, last-second Illinois shot in Champaign, we'd be talking about a 10-game streak through the Big Ten.
2. Michigan State: The Hoosiers have proven they're a step ahead of the Spartans. Everyone else? Get in line.
3. Wisconsin: Ben Brust -- 27 points and 19 rebounds in the past two games -- has been huge in getting the Badgers back on track.
4. Michigan: Penn State on the schedule was supposed to be a welcome stop in a rough stretch, but the Wolverines have to get more than an eight-point win there.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes picked up the intensity vs. Minnesota. But will they be able to keep it up against Michigan State?
6. Illinois: The Illini are going strong but finish with three road games in the last four.
7. Iowa: At this point, the Hawkeyes could be tourney-bound despite that poor RPI (83).
8. Minnesota: Someone needs to set these Gophers' tails on fire -- they're looking like frozen statues on the court.
9. Purdue: There isn't enough firepower this year, but I'm excited to see how A.J. Hammons develops.
10. Northwestern: Poor Wildcats fans don't even have a bubble to hope for.
11. Nebraska: When the Huskers can slow it down, they can challenge, but so far they can only manage wins over Penn State.
12. Penn State: A two-point loss against Iowa, a five-point loss at Illinois, an eight-point loss AT MICHIGAN? Might the Lions win one?
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