Minnesota's loss vs. Penn State last night combined with Nebraska's ever-so-slight loss vs. Maryland ensures the Gophers will enter the Big Ten Tournament with the 11-seed, and will face 14-seed Rutgers in the first round on Wednesday.
The Gophers played the Scarlett Knights just once this season, topping them 89-80 at home for their first conference win of the year -- a game in which Andre Hollins also broke out of his slump and hit seven three-pointers.
That was early, when Minnesota still nursed visions that it could pull out of its early doldrums and make a run.
Now, after losing five of its last six, the team needs to legitimately work to rustle up excitement for a win-or-go-home Big Ten tournament, coach Richard Pitino said.
Minnesota probably needs at least a couple wins to feel good about its chances in making the NIT. An NCAA tournament berth, of course, would require the Gophers to win all five.
Lately, they haven't shown any hints that they're capable of such a task.
"What we've got to do is get these guys regrouped, believing in themselves to go pull off a very, very difficult feat," Pitino said. "To lose in the fashion that we did, on senior day, we can't let all of these close losses take away from -- I don't know if fun is the right word, but getting them playing with that competitive spirit like we need to continue to do."
That starts with getting a team motivated and ready to play last-place Rutgers, losers of 14 straight. Sunday's regular-season finale vs. the lowly Penn State featured a sluggish start by a Gophers team that didn't snap awake until the second half, when they were trailing by 13.
"I don't think there is a sense of entitlement like who are we to be playing the 14-seed," Pitino said. "So I don't think that part is what's a challenge. The challenge is losing like we did was difficult. I rewatched the game a couple of times and I really thought we played hard, I thought we played with emotion. We're just not ending up on the winning side of things."
*If Minnesota were to advance in the Big Ten tournament, it would play all teams that its faced just once this season, up to the title game. The Gophers, with wins, would be guaranteed to play 6-seed Ohio State and 3-seed Michigan State in the next two rounds and then either Northwestern, Indiana or Maryland in the semi-final, all teams Minnesota has seen just once this year.
*Pitino said the coaches will scout and prepare ahead for Ohio State, but leading up to Wednesday, the players will focus solely on Rutgers.
*The Big Ten will announce its All-conference teams tonight at 5 p.m. CT, on Big Ten Network. Asked whether he believed Andre Hollins and Mo Walker -- who are on the ballot -- are deserving on any nods this year, Pitino replied "It's hard to say. It's funny, you start thinking like that and then when you have to pick, there are so many good players in our league. Mo, last night played like an all-conference player. And certainly just getting that consistency is something that we battle with with everybody. So I'm not sure." Minnesota was the only conference squad a year ago that didn't have a player named to any of the three teams.