Gophers' Big Win Doesn't Guarantee Tourney Bid
There's no disputing that the University of Minnesota's 77-73 win last night over Indiana in basketball was a big one. How big? One of the announcers doing the game for ESPN remarked that he never before witnessed older people rushing the floor along with students after such a victory. It was actually pretty fun to watch a college whose football and basketball programs have produced very few big moments over the past couple of decades get a chance to whoop it up the way they did. That being said, this win for the Gophers by no means guarantees a spot in March's NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota started out the season very hot, winning their first six home games against mostly subpar competition before losing their first game to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. They rebounded nicely, however, and won their next two games in that same event over Memphis and Stanford in what was the start of an impressive 11-game winning streak. At 17-1 Minnesota found themselves ranked in just about eveyone's Top 10 and seemed destined for a deep run into March Madness. But once they got a bit deeper into the Big Ten portion of their schedule their luck ran out, particularly when it came to games away from home. They dropped four straight to Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, with three of those losses coming on the road. After righting the ship briefly with home wins over Nebraska and Iowa they dropped four of their next five prior to last night's upset.
The Gophers now find themselves at 19-9 (7-8 in the Big Ten) and no shoo-in for the NCAA tournament. With only three games remaining on their schedule it seems almost imperative that Minnesota finish the season as strongly as they started. All three games--vs. Penn St., at Nebraska, and at Purdue--are very winnable. Even if they manage to win out they'll still probably need to win at least a couple of games in the Big Ten Tournament to cement their status as a tournament-worthy team. For now, learning to win on the road will go a long way in making sure the Golden Gophers have more reasons to celebrate.