We are one game past the midpoint of the season and the Gophers sit at 12-4 (3-1 Big Ten). Even though conferences are just beginning shake out, we can get some idea of just what Minnesota’s chances are of making the Big Dance and what they have to do to get there.
Their current resume breaks down like this: (RPI numbers are from College RPI)
One “great” win over Butler (RPI: 17), zero good wins (RPI 25-50), one “decent” win over Ohio State (RPI: 91) and 10 “expected” wins over the rest of the clowns they’ve faced (who knew there was a Utah Valley University?)
Thankfully so far, the Gophers haven’t had a “bad” loss (losing to a team with an RPI of 150 or below). In fact, their worst loss was at the hands of Portland (RPI: 80). The only bad losses they can expect to suffer the rest of the season would be dropping either of their remaining games against Iowa or Penn State. Of course, anything can happen in a conference game.
With their current situation in mind, I’m under the impression that the Gophers will need to win at least 20 games in order to be a candidate for at-large consideration in the tournament. This is barring an upset victory over Purdue, Michigan State and even Wisconsin this year. They only have two solid wins on their resume right now and will need a handful of wins over teams like Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern to strengthen their tournament argument. That means they need to win eight more games in order eclipse the 20-win mark.
But where will those wins come from? It’s impossible to correctly predict how the remaining games will pan out, but you can definitely identify expected victories. Here’s how I think it shapes up (with a conservative, “mind of a Gopher fan” angle):
- @ Michigan State: Loss
- @ Indiana: Win
- vs. Michigan State: Loss
- vs. Northwestern: Win
- @ Ohio State: Loss
- @ Penn State: Win
- vs. Michigan: Win
- @ Northwestern: Loss
- vs. Wisconsin: Loss
- vs. Indiana: Win
- vs. Purdue: Loss
- @ Illinois: Loss
- @ Michigan: Loss
- vs. Iowa: Win
Again, these are conservative predictions (losing at home to Wisconsin, for instance), but you get the idea. Of course, the Gophers could steal one on the road against Michigan, but they could just as easily drop a gimme game at home to Iowa, so I think it balances out. More importantly, you can really only identify six “should-win” games for the rest of their schedule. That puts them at 18-12 to finish the regular season and adds a lot of pressure to win an opening round Big Ten tournament game. Do the Gophers get an at-large bid with only 19 wins and one win over a Top 25 team in a down Big Ten year? I don’t think so, which means they need to steal a game they aren’t supposed to. On the road against Illinois, OSU, NW or Michigan or at home against Purdue, Wisconsin or Michigan State. Yikes.
Overall, it’ll be important for Minnesota to win the games they are supposed to. They can’t afford to drop a home game to Northwestern and they have to win at Penn State. If they can hold their own in the soft parts of the schedule, then they are in better position to steal a game they aren’t expected to win and help strengthen their argument for a ticket to the Dance. They need to position themselves as a strong, 2nd tier Big Ten team — something that will happen with wins over the Illinois, Ohio States, Northwesterns and Michigans of the conference.