How many wins until the Gophers are in the NCAA tournament?

The Gophers’ path into the NCAAs remains rife with speculation.

When Minnesota heads into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the opening round of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament Thursday in Indianapolis, no one needs to tell Richard Pitino that Penn State will be hungry.

A year ago, the Gophers coach was on the flip side.

At Florida International, his Golden Panthers were bested twice by Middle Tennessee State during the regular season before turning the tables in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

“We were not losing,” Pitino said this week, the intensity rising in his voice. “We were not losing that game. We were not losing.”

Now, it is Pitino’s crew that will have to stave off a Penn State team certain to have that same mentality after losing to the Gophers twice during the regular season. At stake for the Gophers is their hope of gaining an NCAA tournament berth.

This much appears certain: Minnesota will need at least one more victory to have any chance of being invited to the NCAA tournament. After that, opinions widely vary.

CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm told the Star Tribune he doesn’t believe the Gophers are safely in the field unless they win at least two or three games in the conference tournament.

Pitino thinks otherwise, saying: “Jerry Palm is out of his mind if he thinks we have to win three games to go to the NCAA tournament.”

Pitino said he believes a victory over Penn State will be enough to make the Gophers serious candidates for an at-large berth, based on “20 wins, and you have a top-five strength of schedule [as of Tuesday]. … But obviously a couple things have to pan out the right way.”

The Gophers strive to take it a step further and just claim the championship, which carries with it an automatic tournament berth.

Inside the gym at the Bierman Field Athletic building, seven white posters are affixed to a wall, each containing one character:

“4 IN A ROW”

Minnesota has never won a Big Ten tournament. Doing so now would require a focus that allows the Gophers to block out the constant chatter that surrounds their NCAA prospects.

“It’s tough, especially with all the media and whatnot,” center Mo Walker said. “One day we’re on the good side of the bubble, the other day we’re on the bad side of the bubble. You just try to stay away from it, try to focus on getting better.”

They also need to understand that Penn State (15-16, 6-12 Big Ten) will enter the game determined not to lose three times in one season to the Gophers (19-12, 8-10). Penn State has beaten Ohio State twice this season and has victories over Nebraska and Indiana, giving the Nittany Lions hope that they, too, can win four consecutive tournament games and move on.

“We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency,” Penn State associate head coach Keith Urgo said. “We know we’re capable of playing with anybody in the country, let alone this league, if we come out and play our game and play as hard as we possibly can.”

The Gophers barely defeated Penn State 68-65 at State College, then gained a blowout 81-63 victory Sunday in the regular-season finale at Williams Arena. For Pitino, that’s reminiscent of his FIU team a year ago, which lost to Middle Tennessee State once in a rout, then in a heartbreaker at the buzzer. FIU turned the tables with a 61-57 victory in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals, then lost 65-63 to Western Kentucky in the title game. Middle Tennessee State ultimately received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, something that almost certainly won’t happen for the Gophers with a loss to Penn State.

The Gophers’ résumé certainly suggests that a loss in Thursday’s opening round is possible.

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New England 14 FINAL
Kansas City 41
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Rangers 6
Toronto 0 FINAL
Detroit 3
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Columbus 3 FINAL
Nashville 0
Florida 4 FINAL
Dallas 5
Winnipeg 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Arizona 4 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
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Akron
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Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
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Ottawa
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Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 am
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

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