Gophers firmly on NIT bubble

by Jack Satzinger

The Gophers topped Michigan State 96-90 in overtime on Thursday night for arguably their most impressive victory of the season. An NCAA tournament appearance is highly unlikely at this point — unless the Gophers find a way to beat No. 5 Wisconsin next week, top Penn State three days later and then go on a major run in the conference tournament — but an NIT berth is looking probable.

That being said, if last season’s NIT field is any indication, the Gophers (17-12, 6-10 Big Ten) need to win one or both of their remaining regular season games to make the second-fiddle tournament.

There were 11 teams from Power Five conferences in last season’s NIT, including Minnesota. As the list below illustrates, each of those teams won seven or more conference games and beat at least one ranked opponent. The Gophers have won six times against Big Ten foes this season and their best victories are at solid, but unranked, Iowa and Michigan State.

2014 NIT teams from Power Five conferences

20-13, 8-10 Big Ten
Key wins: vs. No. 9 Wisconsin, vs. No. 11 Ohio State, vs. No. 20 Iowa

19-13, 12-6 SEC
Key wins: at No. 21 Missouri, at LSU

West Virginia
17-15, 9-9 Big 12
Key wins: vs. No. 8 Kansas, vs. No. 11 Iowa State, vs. No 21 Oklahoma

22-11, 9-9 SEC
Key wins: vs. No. 18 UCLA, vs. Tennessee

Florida State
19-13, 9-9 ACC
Key wins: vs. No. 22 Massachusetts, at Pittsburgh

19-14, 7-11 Big Ten
Key wins: at No. 18 Michigan State, at No. 24 Iowa

19-13, 9-9 SEC
Key wins: vs. No. 11 Kentucky, vs. Arkansas

21-11, 9-9 Pac 12
Key wins: vs. No. 25 UCLA, vs. Colorado

19-13, 10-8 Pac 12
Key wins: vs. No. 1 Arizona, at No. 17 Oregon

20-12, 10-8 ACC
Key wins: vs. No. 16 Duke, vs. NC State

21-11, 10-8 SEC
Key wins: at No. 17 Kentucky, vs. No. 13 Kentucky, vs. Minnesota


Minnesota’s 2015 résumé
17-12, 6-10 Big Ten
Key wins: at Iowa, at Michigan State

As it stands now, the Gophers are an NIT bubble team. Beating Wisconsin after a full week off would surely vault the Gophers into NIT territory and also give them a puncher’s chance at the NCAA tournament. That’s unlikely at this point, though. Minnesota will probably defeat Penn State next Sunday on senior night to reach seven conference victories, but there’s still the glaring omission of beating a ranked opponent.

The one Power Five team that got to the NIT last season with fewer than eight conference victories, Illinois, topped both No. 18 Michigan State and No. 24 Iowa on the road. The Big Ten is also in a down year now after losing so much talent to the NBA, which doesn’t help the Gophers’ case.

So unless the Gophers pull off the upset against Wisconsin on Thursday or beat Penn State and then wins a few games in the conference tournament, they’ll be on the bubble on Selection Sunday — the NIT bubble.