Selection Sunday: Gophers are a faux bubble team, virtual lock to NCAA Tournament

Andrew Krammer

Four months ago, Selection Sunday was the time Gophers players and fans alike couldn’t wait for.

Now, with three straight losses including a first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament, many fans and players are sweating it — even if they don't have to.

On Selection Sunday, the NCAA selection committee weighs the good wins with the bad losses – while taking multiple statistics into account that weigh heavily in Minnesota’s favor.

“We still feel like we can make [the NCAA Tournament] with our RPI and strength of schedule,” junior Austin Hollins said after Thursday’s loss to Illinois. “But it’s out of our hands now.”

Sixty eight teams take part in the “Big Dance,” with 37 at-large bids up for grabs and it’s likely the Big Ten will nab seven of those available spots.

The winner of the Big Ten Tournament, decided Sunday between Wisconsin and Ohio State, will get an automatic bid – leaving the rest like Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota to sit and wait.

But out of those upper-tier Big Ten teams, it’s the Gophers who are playing their worst basketball heading into March Madness.

“We’ll be wondering and hoping [on Selection Sunday],” coach Tubby Smith said. “We got our chances the last three games.”

After destroying Penn State by 29 points on their Senior Day, the Gophers have lost three straight – including at Nebraska and at Purdue – both of which are non-Tournament teams.

Minnesota (20-12, 8-11 Big Ten) has dropped 11 of the last 16 games, but thanks to two rankings: 24th in RPI and 4th in strength of schedule, the Gophers are virtually a lock to get in.

Wins over Tournament teams like Memphis, Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana bolster a resume that boasts the fourth-toughest schedule in the country.

However, the NCAA selection committee will have to weigh those wins against losses to lowly programs like Northwestern when making their decision on Sunday.

“It’s not a feeling you want to go into Selection Sunday feeling,” Andre Hollins said.