Nobody makes the NCAA tournament in January, but you can play yourself out of contention.

When the Gophers men’s basketball team went on the road to Columbus on Thursday night, it didn’t know if its tourney hopes were on the line. 


But that’s the position Richard Pitino’s team is in right now from game to game. Life on the bubble is unstable, but the Gophers’ 62-59 victory at Ohio State put them back into NCAA tournament projections.  

ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi has Minnesota among his “Last Four In” teams on the right side of the bubble. Lunardi’s First Four group includes the Gophers playing Northern Iowa, both as No. 11 seeds.

Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy also included Minnesota in his Fox Sports College Hoops latest bracket projection in the First Four playing Texas Christian.

Most importantly, the NCAA’s NET rankings moved the Gophers up to No. 39. They currently are 3-6 in Quadrant 1 games, but they also improved to 1-5 in Quad 1 true road games.

On Thursday, Pitino was excited about sophomore point guard Marcus Carr’s game-winning three-pointer against the Buckeyes, but he also knows the schedule only gets tougher.

The Gophers host No. 11 Michigan State on Sunday. It’s another huge test, but there are also more opportunities ahead to boost their NCAA tournament resume. The Spartans (NET No. 10) are the first of five straight Quadrant 1 win games for Minnesota, including next Thursday at Illinois (NET No. 32).