By Mike Gallagher
I’d call that a little much, but Tubby Smith shot straight from the hip when discussing the team’s NCAA tournament chances on Minnesota Vikings voice Paul Allen’s radio show.
With a big win over Illinois on Saturday, one the Gophers desperately tried to give away having been up 17 with six and a half minutes to go, the Gophers are inching ever closer to bubble contention and with two wins to end the year (@ Michigan, Iowa), could be looking at an NCAA tournament bid if they have a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament.
A few scenarios to consider when looking at the stretch run for the Gophers:
- Should they win out, that will put the Gophers at 19 wins and 10 conference wins in the second best league in the nation. Should Illinois lose their final two (@OSU, WIS), which is a very real possibility, that would but the 19 win Gophers as the 5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament because of the head to head tiebreaker they own over Illinois. Minnesota would receive a first round bye and then face the four seed, which at the moment is Wisconsin, who the Gophers have already defeated this year. It’s not easy win, but for the sake of argument, let’s say the Gophers pull the upset. They would then move on to face Ohio State, who they have beaten, but at this point looks like almost a sure loss after getting beaten by 22 in their last meeting. In the most fortunate of outcomes, it would appear the Gophers would finish the year 20-12 (11-9) in this case. With only one Big Ten tourney win, that may not be enough. There are advantages to getting the bye, rested legs and added confidence come to mind. Looking at this next scenario, though, you can clearly see the disadvantages of this situation.
- On paper, getting the bye sounds good, but looking closer it might actually be a curse. If the Gophers should take the six seed, they would draw Penn State in the first game, as opposed to having the first round bye the top five teams in the conference get. Despite Penn State’s improved play of late and the Gophers only winning by two over the Nittany Lions two weeks ago, surely that would be a win for the Gophers. The Gophers would then move on and play Michigan State, which most likely won’t change before the end of the year because the top three teams have creampuff opponents to end the regular season. The Gophers have played Michigan State tough both games, losing by only one in their last meeting, and by seven in their road contest. It would likely be a game the Gophers would need to have and if they could get it, they would end the year with a likely loss to #2 seed Purdue and realistically end the year 21-12 (12-9).
Those are the two ways the Gophers could go, and at this point, I would definitely take Scenario #2. Scenario #1 gives the Gophers a chance to rest and get ready for a big game against Wisconsin, but it does not give the Gophers that easy win over Penn State which would at least build the stat that matters most in sports, the W column.
Scenario #2 offers that easy win along with a third shot at a team you were very close to beating twice this year. Scenario #1 gives you a very tough road right from the start, and makes it almost impossible to win the two conference tournament games you would need in order to feel confident about getting into the tournament. Playing Penn State again would hurt the SOS and RPI slightly, but I don’t believe hurting the computer numbers by playing Penn State off the bat rather than Wisconsin is enough to jettison the easy win you could have against the Nittany Lions.
The problem with wanting Scenario #2 is that if everything goes right for the Gophers in the regular season, winning out while Illinois losses out, they wouldn’t get the seed in the postseason they need. It’s a double edged sword, either way you’re going to get cut somehow, so the only real way to make it work is to take care of your business and worry about the postseason when it comes.
Either way, you’re going to have to win at least one tough game to give yourself a shot, and if they can take down that first ranked opponent in the 4-5 matchup scenario #1 proposes, you never know what can happen after that.
The Gophers need four wins and probably some help from Illinois, the tricky thing will be getting both of those things to happen at the same time. It will most likely come down to the team getting the most wins in the Big Ten Tournament getting in, and strangely enough, having the higher seed might play one team right out of the dance.
But as I said, one thing at a time, the Gophers need to beat Michigan Tuesday, and handle Iowa Sunday, otherwise you just wasted your time reading this because none of it will matter.Follow paulmbanks