This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Was the Gophers strength of schedule a help or a hindrance?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: March 18, 2014 - 11:17 AM

There were plenty of reasons Minnesota didn't get into the NCAA tournament. 

In the end, the Gophers probably just simply didn't deserve it in comparison with the rest of the field.

But there was really one argument that kept them in the conversation:

Strength of schedule.

Now, coach Richard Pitino is wondering whether it was actually a hindrance.

When it was all said and done, the Gophers played the ninth-ranked schedule in the nation in terms of toughness. They finished the year with a 20-13 record. 

That, Pitino thought, should have been enough.

"We played a top-[10] schedule ... you get to 20 wins, normally that's a recipe to get in," he said.

It wasn't.

"What happened was our quality wins stopped being quality wins," Pitino said. "Florida State, all of the sudden slid below 50 [in the RPI]. Iowa slid below 50. Iowa got credit for beating us, a top-50 win, we didn't get credit for them as a top-50 win. Richmond, their best player got hurt."

Those tumbles were problematic, sure, but it wasn't as if Minnesota didn't have other chances. In fact, you could argue they had the ninth-most chances in the country.

The NCAA tournament selection committee decided, ultimately, that the Gophers didn't do enough with them. Minnesota had just two wins against top-50 teams, a statistic that's almost hard to fathom given their scheduling girth. In some cases, the committee gave nods instead to teams with far inferior schedules, but who actually showed something in the tough games they did have.

"I just think moving forward, we've got to understand teams that had schedules in the 30s and 40s and had 22, 23 wins, they got rewarded," Pitino said. "Our goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament."

So did the Gophers' schedule really hurt them? Had they played a lighter schedule would they have notched two or three more victories and gone Dancing?

That's tricky. 

Of course, playing in the Big Ten automatically boosts a schedule. That's the part Minnesota really doesn't get to decide. Of the the six league teams that made the NCAA tournament, four of them -- Wisconsin (2), Michigan (5), Michigan State (13) and Ohio State (16) -- had top-20 schedules. Those slates weren't short on any names in the non-conference schedule, either. Michigan played Duke, Iowa State and Arizona along with FSU and Stanford. Wisconsin played Florida, Virginia and St. Louis. Michigan State had Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, UNC and Georgetown. Ohio State had North Dakota State, Marquette and Maryland.

And those that didn't have top-20 schedules, Iowa (37) and Nebraska (29) weren't short on powerhouses either. Iowa had Xavier, Villanova and Iowa State in the non-conference. Nebraska had Massachusetts, Creighton, Cincinnati and Georgia. 

By comparison, Minnesota's schedule actually looks a little wimpy at first glance. The only really notable team is Syracuse, although the Gophers also played at Richmond and against Florida State.

Their schedule, instead, was beefed up -- mostly by the previous coaching staff -- with decent teams from smaller conferences who were expected to win their leagues. Do that right, and your SOS will shoot through the roof without your squad ever being very threatened. Joe Esposito, on former coach Tubby Smith's staff, was always a wizard at that. 

That, too, was where the Gophers shined. They finished the non-conference slate with just two losses. Eleven more came in the conference slate. 

Pitino said yesterday that he wouldn't have given up the Maui Invitational -- where Minnesota played Syracuse -- and he has already scheduled a matchup against his dad, Rick Pitino and Louisville for next season. Yet obviously the Gophers wouldn't be able to pick up another win or two unless they had skipped that Hawaii trip.

So was it the Woffords and the South Dakota States that slowly wore the Gophers down, causing them to perform worse in January and February? If that was the case, the idea might be to land a couple of bigtime programs and fill in the gaps with teams all ranked 250th or lower. 

But I don't buy it. I think strength of schedule is still a huge asset in the eyes of the committee. At the same time, it's also not a free pass. 

A team needs to win some of the really impressive games to make the best of it, but such a stacked slate provides opportunity after opportunity to do so.

The biggest problem this season is that the Gophers didn't take enough advantage of that. 

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Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 5
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 5 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Los Angeles 10 FINAL
Milwaukee 1
San Francisco 12 FINAL
Texas 3
Chicago WSox 0 FINAL
San Diego 5
Kansas City 11 FINAL
Cleveland 9
Seattle 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 7
Colorado 0 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 7 FINAL
Arizona 2
Pittsburgh 2 Top 4th Inning
NY Yankees 0
Chicago 42 3rd Qtr
Indiana 45
Sacramento 57 3rd Qtr
Orlando 68
Utah 41 3rd Qtr
Philadelphia 42
Miami 39 3rd Qtr
Washington 67
Toronto 42 3rd Qtr
Charlotte 53
Cleveland 21 2nd Qtr 11:30
Atlanta 36
Boston 0 1st Qtr 8:55
New Orleans 6
Detroit 4 1st Qtr 9:36
Houston 4
LA Lakers 4 1st Qtr 9:05
Memphis 6
Phoenix 9 1st Qtr 9:24
Brooklyn 3
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 2 2nd Prd 13:41
New Jersey 1
Minnesota 1 2nd Prd 11:55
Carolina 0
Buffalo 2 1st Prd :56
Ottawa 0
Calgary 1 2nd Prd
Detroit 2
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Chicago
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
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Radford 66
Evansville 67 FINAL
Illinois State 71
Towson 69 1st OT 0:09
Elon 72
Gardner-Webb 72 1st OT 0:04
High Point 71
Samford 76 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Northern Ill 22 2nd Half 19:08
Ball State 27
Bowling Green 35 2nd Half
Buffalo 35
Brown 43 2nd Half 15:54
Dartmouth 24
Toledo 33 2nd Half 15:53
Eastern Mich 40
Akron 36 2nd Half 15:46
Kent State 43
Ill-Chicago 38 2nd Half 16:24
Oakland 32
Miami-Ohio 34 2nd Half 15:31
Ohio 62
Columbia 17 2nd Half 15:22
Penn 29
Cornell 33 2nd Half 15:03
Princeton 41
Central Mich 26 2nd Half 17:26
Western Mich 41
Bradley 32 2nd Half 16:26
Northern Iowa 34
Morehead State 29 1st Half 2:56
Murray State 36
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 2 1st Half 17:01
Harvard 3
Furman 7:30 PM
Citadel
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Drexel
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 57 FINAL
(24) Northwestern 62
Tennessee St 71 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 59
Loyola Marymount 50 FINAL
Gonzaga 70
(18) Texas A&M 65 FINAL
LSU 71
Cincinnati 76 FINAL
UCF 66
Saint Josephs 61 FINAL
Dayton 80
UCLA 62 FINAL
(19) Stanford 67
Santa Clara 42 FINAL
San Diego 51
Virginia Tech 43 FINAL
(7) Florida State 82
SMU 59 FINAL
Memphis 71
Lehigh 75 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Rhode Island 34 2nd Half 12:56
Duquesne 38
North Florida 19 2nd Half 14:30
(20) Fla Gulf Coast 41
Kennesaw St 34 2nd Half 15:12
Jacksonville 35
USC Upstate 21 2nd Half 14:57
Northern Ky 25
Lipscomb 37 2nd Half 15:00
Stetson 59
Nebraska 38 2nd Half 15:39
(14) Iowa 46
Saint Peters 37 2nd Half 13:27
Marist 33
Navy 36 2nd Half 13:55
Bucknell 31
Lafayette 31 2nd Half 14:10
American Univ 52
Colgate 21 2nd Half 14:18
Army 23
Georgia 16 2nd Half 16:17
(5) Tennessee 39
Dartmouth 52 2nd Half 11:08
Brown 39
Penn 29 2nd Half 15:22
Columbia 18
(13) Princeton 62 2nd Half 7:59
Cornell 27
Kansas 20 2nd Half 15:53
Kansas State 31
Harvard 49 2nd Half 9:55
Yale 51
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
San Jose St 5 1st Half 18:35
UNLV 0
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California

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