The Gophers and Badgers men’s basketball teams are separated by only one game in the Big Ten standings, but they’re not nearly as close when it comes to NCAA tournament contention.
The border battle always has a lot at stake, including bragging rights. Wednesday’s game at Williams Arena means a lot more to Minnesota’s tournament résumé, though.
None of the major NCAA tournament projections has the Gophers (11-10, 5-6 Big Ten) in the field. Meanwhile, the Badgers (13-9, 6-5) are as high as an eighth seed in ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, which has Minnesota as one of the first four teams out.
“We only have nine regular-season games left,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Very, very important to take advantage of any opportunity you get that’s in front of you. Obviously, Wisconsin is a terrific opportunity.”
Last season, the Gophers split the season series with the Badgers, with each team winning on the road. Pitino made the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years when the Big Ten got a record eight teams in the field.
Eleven conference team are projected to make the tournament, but Minnesota is just outside of that group.
On Tuesday, the Gophers were ranked No. 44 in the NET rankings, the NCAA’s evaluation tool for tournament selection. They have a 3-8 record in Quadrant 1 games, which are the most valuable. But the Gophers dropped to 1-7 in true road games after falling 59-51 last Thursday at Illinois.
That makes taking care of business against Wisconsin more critical Wednesday. Five regular-season games remain as potential Quad 1 wins, but only a couple are at the Barn.