MINNEAPOLIS - We’re about a month away from Selection Sunday, and the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team finds itself in somewhat familiar territory under Richard Pitino.
In his eighth season, Pitino has the Gophers on the cusp of locking up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It would be the program's third Big Dance under Pitino, but there’s still work to do. There’s still five regular season games left, six if the game at Nebraska gets rescheduled and the Big Ten Tournament.
Minnesota is 13-8 on the season, 6-8 in Big Ten play. Here’s a look at where things stand as we enter the final stretch of the regular season.
BRACKETOLOGY: GOPHERS CURRENTLY AN NCAA TOURNAMENT TEAM
It’s been an up-and-down season for Pitino and the Gophers, but if the NCAA Selection Show were today, Minnesota would be dancing without much of a sweat. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has the Gophers among the last four byes, a 10 seed facing Florida in the first round. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Minnesota in the First Four, a No. 11 seed facing Drake. It’s an interesting match-up, with Liam Robbins transferring to Minnesota from that program in the offseason.
USA Today as the Gophers as an 11 seed, facing No. 6 Kansas. Andy Katz has Minnesota as a No. 9 seed, facing Xavier. Minnesota, ranked as high as No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll this season, is currently No. 40 in the KenPom rankings, and No. 53 in the NCAA NET rankings.
DEFENDING WILLIAMS ARENA
There’s no home court advantage this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the path to the NCAA Tournament so far for the Gophers is going through Williams Arena. Minnesota is 13-1 on its home floor this year, with its only blemish to Maryland. The Gophers’ remaining home schedule includes Illinois on Saturday, Northwestern on Feb. 27 and Rutgers on March 6.
The Gophers have five wins against teams ranked in the top 25 this season, which is tied for the most in school history. They could make it six with a win over Illinois this weekend. So far, those wins are Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue. They also have a win over St. Louis, who will be an NCAA Tournament team. Michigan and Ohio State are top-5 teams, and Iowa is ranked No. 11. Those quality home wins will carry a lot of weight on Selection Sunday.
FIND A ROAD WIN
At some point, the Gophers need to find a way to win on the road. They have chances at Indiana and at Penn State remaining before the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota has largely not been competitive on the road this year. They had a lead at Rutgers late before falling 76-72, then never recovered at Maryland after getting behind by 19 in the first half.
The Gophers are at 6-8 in the Big Ten, and with five games left, need to finish 3-2 to not be sweating on Selection Sunday. They can feel very confident about themselves with home wins over Illinois, Northwestern and Rutgers, and finding a way to beat Indiana or Penn State on the road.
Enjoy the final stretch, anything is possible.