The Gophers men’s basketball team’s five-game winning streak puts it in the best position in years to finish with an above .500 record in the Big Ten.
That hasn’t happened since the 2004-05 season when Minnesota went 10-6.
It’s not likely the Gophers go undefeated the rest of the regular season, especially with road games left Wednesday at Maryland and March 5 at Wisconsin. But finishing 11-7 or 10-8 in the conference is realistic, which would mean a shot a top-four seed and double-bye in the Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C.
A fifth seed was the highest the Gophers ever had in the Big Ten tournament in 2005.
The first step toward that goal would be to pull off an upset Wednesday in College Park, M.D. That isn’t so far-fetched.
The Gophers lost 85-78 against Maryland on Jan. 28 at Williams Arena, but they did so after squandering a 12-point lead. The Terrapins are in the Big Ten title hunt with Wisconsin and Purdue, but they’ve proven to be vulnerable at home before. Nebraska beat Maryland 67-65 on Jan. 1 at the XFINITY Center.
If Richard Pitino’s team sees its winning streak end Wednesday, it will need to finish the home schedule with wins against Penn State and Nebraska to stay on track for the highest seed possible.
The Nittany Lions will be looking to sweep the Gophers for the second straight season. The Cornhuskers have won four of the last five meetings with Minnesota. These are arguably the two most winnable games of the conference season for Pitino. But they’re certainly not a given, considering the history and how unpredictable the Big Ten has been this season.
Let’s just say Minnesota won two of the next three games and went into the regular-season finale in Madison with a 10-7 conference record. A border rivalry game that actually means something, how cool would that be? And imagine if the Gophers actually won at Wisconsin for the first time since 2009.
The Gophers would be sitting at 11-7 in the Big Ten and 22-8 overall. That probably would be a top-6 seed or higher in the NCAA tournament. But not necessarily a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota would still need to finish with a better Big Ten record than Michigan State and the same or better conference record than Northwestern. The Spartans own the tiebreaker over the Gophers after a season sweep. But the Gophers have the tiebreaker over the Wildcats after winning their only meeting.
There’s a scenario where Minnesota can even go 2-2 in the last four and still earn a No. 4 Big Ten tourney seed. That’s only if Michigan State and Northwestern either both lose their last four or three of their last four games. Seems unlikely.
Regardless of what happens, the Gophers are basically playing for NCAA tournament seeding at this point in my opinion. Some of my media colleagues disagree that they would be dancing in March with an 8-10 conference record. But it's not about the conference record. It's who you beat and lose to, as well as RPI, SOS, etc.
I think they’re in right now. But losing your last four games is not a position you want to be in. Obviously putting yourself on the NCAA tournament bubble after the regular season. If the Gophers get to 9-9 with one more win in the last four -- they’re a lock to get an NCAA bid.
POLL VOTES: The Gophers hadn't been considered for the top 25 for nearly a month after five straight losses, but their five-game win streak has them back in that conversation. Minnesota received five points (not votes!) in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll Monday. The USA Today Coaches top 25 poll did not have the Gophers in the others receiving votes category.