U needs 4 wins for NCAAs, coach says

Todd Zolecki

The buzz of March Madness is slowly drifting into men’s basketball arenas across the country. From Chapel Hill to Santa Clara, teams are beginning to crunch numbers to try and figure out how many wins it will take to make the 64-team NCAA tournament field.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins is one of those crunchers. He’s come up with a magic number of his own. He said four victories in Minnesota’s remaining six games should put the Gophers (14-10, 6-6 in the Big Ten) in great position for an NCAA tournament appearance.
But nothing is for sure, especially in the world of college basketball. Haskins knows that. It happened to his team in 1993 when it finished 17-10 and 9-9 in the conference but wasn’t invited to the NCAA. The Gophers avenged their snub by going on to win the NIT tournament. And as they gear up for Ohio State tonight at Williams Arena, they know with three wins or less they won’t even be considered.
An optimistic scenario has the Gophers winning their remaining home games against Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa and winning at least one road game against Michigan, Purdue or Illinois.
That won’t be easy. Penn State and Iowa are tough, and the Gophers haven’t fared well against their opponents on the road.
Minnesota hasn’t beaten Michigan or Purdue on the road since 1982, the last time the Gophers won a Big Ten title. And Minnesota hasn’t defeated Illinois on the road since 1978.
But players feel confident they can pull it off.
“We probably need to win the rest to guarantee a spot,” Gophers freshman Courtney James said. “But the coaches, my teammates and I feel that we can win all six. We can put ourselves in that situation if we play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Assuming Minnesota doesn’t fold before season’s end, it will at least get a chance for postseason play in the NIT.
Two weeks ago, talk of post-season play, NCAA or NIT, seemed to be a waste of time. The Gophers had just lost to Indiana and were 3-6 in the Big Ten.
But a team meeting, called by Gophers administrative assistant Connell Lewis, a former Gopher, changed the players’ outlook and refocused their efforts.
“I think that helped out a lot,” Gophers junior John Thomas said. “I think a lot of players went back and reevaluated what we needed to do. We talked about dedication, desire, determination and discipline and asked ourselves to look in the mirror to see if we had them.”
The result is a three-game winning streak. The Gophers hope their good fortune continues through Selection Sunday (March 10), because the NIT wasn’t their goal before the season started. Teams need a .500 or above overall record to make the NIT.
“For this ball club — where we started with our youth — an NIT berth would be great,” Haskins said. “But we’re selfish. We’re greedy. We want to go to the NCAA tournament. We prepare ourselves physically and mentally every day to keep that in sight.”
If the Gophers don’t fulfill that goal, they seem ready to make a strong showing in the NIT. But that’s not what they want.
The NCAA tournament experience would be advantageous for Minnesota’s future, Thomas said. He said it will give the younger players, who haven’t experienced March Madness, a taste of what is hopefully to come.
James is hungry for a bite.
“I have no idea what it’s like,” he said. “Hopefully we can do it.”
Jacobson’s status still in doubt
Haskins said forward Sam Jacobson is still suffering from his bruised left pelvic muscle that he injured Saturday against Wisconsin. The injury prevents the sophomore from raising his left arm without discomfort.
Jacobson would not have played if the Ohio State game were Tuesday, Haskins said. “A lot of time in 24 hours, things change,” he said. “So if he can kiss it and heal up overnight, maybe he’ll go. But at the present time, it’s less than a 50-50 chance that Sam will play (tonight).”
Jacobson did not practice Monday, but showed no signs of discomfort in the early stages of Tuesday’s practice. If Jacobson does not play, either junior Mark Jones or freshman Quincy Lewis will start in his place.