Gophers can only watch as fellow bubble teams rise or bust

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2014 - 6:31 PM
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Austin Hollins, right congratulated Andre Hollins after a foul was called on Iowa during the second half at Williams Arena on February 25, 2014. The Gophers are on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Smack in the middle of a week without a basketball game, the Gophers right now have nothing to do but try to improve in practice and wait.

As they do, the edges of the NCAA tournament field will continue to evolve — as some bubble teams sprout legs and others quickly stumble.

Minnesota (18-12, 7-10 Big Ten) is firmly on that bubble with teams with postseason fates that will be determined down the stretch. The Gophers have some impressive victories (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa) along with some ugly losses (Northwestern and Illinois at home; Purdue on the road) to go along with a decent RPI (47) and strong strength of schedule (3). The Gophers’ future could swing either way — ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Minnesota clinging to a spot in the play-in game, while CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has the team out altogether.

This year, more than any in recent memory, where the Gophers land after Selection Sunday is very much determined by what happens to teams in similar circumstances.

Here’s a look at five other teams — from all over the country — whose fate could affect Minnesota’s postseason chances:

Arkansas (20-9, 9-7 SEC)

The SEC team that handled the Gophers so well in Maui is now in a similar predicament. The Razorbacks seem to be hitting their stride at the right time — winning against Kentucky and Georgia in their past two games. But Arkansas, which on paper has plenty of talent but has struggled with consistency, still is trying to rebound from a sluggish start in the SEC and mediocre play on the road. Handling business in their next two games — against Mississippi on Wednesday and at Alabama on Saturday — will be critical to whether the Razorbacks take the next step.

Missouri (20-9, 8-8 SEC)

The tail end of the regular season brings a showdown Saturday at Tennessee — a fellow bubble team in the SEC — and that game could break the chances of the loser. The Tigers, who have the 18th-ranked offense in the nation according to Kenpom.com, don’t have the pedigree they would if they were still in the Big 12, but Missouri kept themselves in the mix with a victory over Mississippi State last Saturday. The lack of quality wins other than a victory over UCLA back in December means the Tigers probably will need to win out the regular schedule and possibly do some damage in the SEC tournament as well.

Oregon (20-8, 8-8 Pac-12)

Fortunes have turned for the Ducks, who were looking like one of the biggest disappointments in the Pac-12 for a while. After dropping eight of 10 in conference play, Oregon has won five in a row and has forced itself, for the time being, on the right side of the bubble.

But staying there won’t be easy. The Ducks finish the year with a pair of home games against Arizona State and Arizona. A victory over the Wildcats would be huge, but even if Oregon splits the pair, there are opportunities to improve their record in the conference tournament.

Nebraska (17-11, 9-7 Big Ten)

Who could have predicted this position? Certainly not Big Ten writers, who all picked Tim Miles’ squad to land last in the league. And yet here the Cornhuskers are, staring at a legitimate opportunity to dance for the first time since 1998. Unlike the Gophers, the ’Huskers have a winning record in the Big Ten — and a huge road victory against Michigan State. Winning their final two, at Indiana (one of the tougher places to play in the league) and against Wisconsin at home would make them more attractive than Minnesota, but even if the Huskers go 1-1, plenty of chances await in the Big Ten tournament.

Dayton (20-9, 8-6 Atlantic 10)

The Flyers picked up a big victory over the weekend against a top-50 opponent, Massachusetts, but in order for them to solidify at least a spot in the play-in game — effectively becoming the first team to benefit from a home game in the NCAA tournament — Dayton will need to finish strong. Neither of the Flyers’ remaining two regular-season games are gimmes, playing St. Louis on the road (yikes) and then Richmond at home. Dayton will need to impress in those in order to overcome three sub-100 losses.

 

Amelia Rayno amelia.rayno@startribune.com

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