A month ago, I sat down with Gophers men’s basketball beat writer Marcus Fuller and we hashed out things that were going wrong for the 4-5 Gophers — and whether they could turn things around from a disappointing follow-up to last year’s second-round NCAA tournament appearance.
One of the numbers I dug up was particularly glaring: Teamrankings.com, in assessing the Gophers’ resume to that point, gave them just a 9.6% chance of making the Big Dance this year.
But that back-and-forth came out on a Sunday, the same day the Gophers upset Ohio State in their Big Ten home opener. They’ve added quality wins since then over Michigan and Penn State, going 6-2 overall since that 4-5 start.
Now at 10-7 and with one of the top strength of schedules in the country, they’re suddenly right back in the mix as a bubble team heading into a critical stretch of their season.
The aforementioned Team Rankings now gives Minnesota a 52% chance of making the NCAA field; ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Gophers as one of his last four teams in the field — the last of a rather absurd 12 Big Ten teams he has making it right now; on the minus side, CBS’s Jerry Palm does not have Minnesota in his field.
With Selection Sunday still two months away, though, the Gophers’ specific place in the pecking order is less important than the fact that they are even participating in the pecking order.
Minnesota is No. 41 in the NET Rankings, a useful tool. And their next seven games, starting with Sunday at resurgent Rutgers, are all-important “Quadrant 1” games — either home games against a NET Top 30 team or away game against a NET Top 75 team.
Four of those seven are on the road. The Gophers are 0-5 in true road games this season. If they come out of this seven-game stretch in good shape, we could be talking about a return trip to the tournament field.