Why panic? NCAA tournament gives Gophers their best chance yet

Charlie Armitz

The social media reactions to the Gophers' Big Ten tournament loss Thursday were too predictable.

"Fire Tubby" was a common one, as it has been throughout the Big Ten season. Never mind that Tubby Smith's team will likely make the NCAA tournament, where it would need only two or three wins to make fans forget about Minnesota's 8-10 Big Ten record.

Some fans expressed doubt that the Gophers will make the NCAA tournament even though metrics such as RPI and strength of schedule say otherwise. Others argued the Gophers don't deserve an NCAA berth because they regressed at the end of the season.

This is where the logic falls apart. A team deserves to make the NCAA tournament if it has proven it will be competitive in the 68-team field. The Gophers are 20-12 overall, good for a bubble team from a major conference. They're also 12-1 against nonconference opponents, and they'll almost certainly play a nonconference opponent in the first round.

But on Selection Sunday, the same scene will likely emerge. Fans will call for Tubby's firing, crack jokes when the Gophers make the tournament and predict a first-round exit. It's the Minnesota sports fan's modus operandi when a local team struggles.

An analytical approach shows the Gophers' season is far from over. Minnesota has struggled lately because of an inefficent halfcourt offense and a weak bench. The NCAA tournament will serve as a natural solution to both problems. Non-Big Ten teams play faster, which leads to shorter possessions and a less emphasis on halfcourt execution. And benches are less important in the Big Dance because coaches tend to shorten them (although Tubby may not).

The Gophers have shown they can compete at a high level under the right circumstances. Don't be surprised to see that high level resurface in a week.