The Big Ten at one point was projected to get as many as 11 teams into the NCAA tournament this season, but most recent mock brackets say nine will go dancing.
Now that mid-February is upon the league, the contenders and pretenders are separating themselves.
The Gophers had been trending downward, but they treated this week as a chance to prove they're still strong contenders for the NCAA tournament. A three-game losing streak is now even further in their rearview mirror with Thursday's 71-68 comeback win over No. 25 Purdue at Williams Arena.
"That's a huge win," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "The beauty of this league is there are plenty of good opportunities. You got about 90 percent of your league that believes it can be an NCAA tournament team."
The Gophers (13-7, 6-7 Big Ten) improved to 5-0 against ranked teams at home this season, which included victories over Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Those previous wins over ranked opponents were by an average of nearly 17 points per game, but Thursday night offered a nail-biting finish.
Marcus Carr scored eight of his team-high 19 points in the final minute and change, including two three-pointers that helped the Gophers avenge a 19-point loss Jan. 30 to Purdue on the road.
After Carr banked in his last three for a 69-68 lead with just under 15 seconds to play, the U bench erupted and filled the empty Barn with screams of elation. Two free throws by backcourt teammate Gabe Kalscheur with seven seconds remaining capped a 12-4 run to finish the game.
The last time a game came down to Minnesota relying on Carr for the winning shots, the junior point guard forced two contested jumpers that fell short in last week's 76-72 loss at Rutgers. He blamed himself then for the team's sixth straight road loss.
"It's on all of us, not just on one person," said Kalscheur, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. "We're all going to go through slumps. We're all going to get down on ourselves. It's just how our team and our brotherhood and family keeps us up."
Carr and the Gophers looked like a different team than the one that blew a 14-point lead in a blowout loss against the Boilermakers last month.
Carr was held to just six points on 2-for-13 shooting at Purdue, but he's averaging 19 points per game in the three games since. That includes 21 points in Monday's 79-61 win against Nebraska at home that got Minnesota back on the winning side.
Thursday's victory was a bigger statement that the Gophers should be taken seriously again in the Big Ten. But the game could have had a different outcome if Purdue had made just a few more plays.
Trevion Williams, who had 24 of the Boilermakers' 40 points in the paint, followed Carr's first clutch three and free throws with a jumper to give the Boilermakers a 68-66 lead with 25 seconds to play.
After Carr's second display of heroics went off the glass and into the net from beyond the arc, the Boilermakers gave the ball to Williams again in the post, but he was called for traveling.
Following Kalscheur's free throws, the Gophers finished off the game by forcing Sasha Stefanovic's errant three-point attempt at the final buzzer.
Consecutive home games resulted in back-to-back wins for a team that desperately needed to change the course of its season. Now the Gophers travel to play Sunday at Maryland with another chance for revenge. Their only home loss was to the Terrapins by 14 points on Jan. 23.
"Those type of games don't sit well with me knowing I left something out on the court," senior Brandon Johnson said. "I know my guys feel the same way."