Gophers don’t look at bracketology, but they know where they stand

by Jace Frederick

Gophers coach Richard Pitino isn't going to act like he doesn't think about the NCAA Tourament.

"That'd be silly," he said. 

But his players don't seem to be too consumed by it.

"I constantly hint at them … 'hey, do you guys check like bracketology?,'" Pitino said.

The answer he gets from his squad — no.

"They really don't," he said. "They're just college kids, they're ready for the next game."

Senior guard Maverick Ahanmisi backed his coach's statement, but the players know where they stand. In this day and age, it's tough not to.

"We're not lying to him, we don't check it," he said. "But obviously we watch ESPN sometimes and on the little scroll on the bottom, it says 'Minnesota: First Four Out,' or something like that. We just try not to think about it too much."

The bubble is turning into a familiar place of residence for the Gophers. Minnesota hung out on it for about the last month of the 2012-13 season. 

But the Gophers roster saw a big overhaul from last season, and newcomers and major contributors DeAndre Mathieu, Malik Smith, Joey King and Daquein McNeil haven't experienced the bubble watch before.

Ahanmisi's message to them: stay focused.

"Some of the younger guys are always looking at bracketology and realizing 'oh, we're kicked out because Providence beat this person' and stuff like that," he said. "I tell them all time, if we win, it might be the same thing for other teams as well. We could kick them out. It's just how the NCAAs [are]."

"We've got to just win the games we're supposed to win and everything will fall into place if we just do what we have to do on the court."

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi gets countless clicks on his projected fields every day, but the Gophers players aren't the people providing them. And apparently, neither is Pitino — at least not anymore.

"I'm not going to act like I don't know which teams are on the bubble," he said. "I think we went like 0 for 8 with the teams we needed to lose, so I just said 'I've had enough of this. I'm not paying attention to this anymore.'"

If he did check out Lunardi's field, he would see Minnesota currently slotted into Lunardi's "First Four Out" — just a few spots out of the touranment.

Pitino said as of Saturday, even he wouldn't have the Gophers in the NCAA Tournament if he was on the selection committee.

Would he put them in if the Gophers beat Penn State on Sunday? No idea. He didn't really answer that question. But he did say this:

"I'm not going to politic really, but I will say, normally you get rewarded with a great strength of schedule," Pitino said. 

As of Saturday night, the Gophers have the fourth-best strength of schedule in the nation. That will be one factor in their favor heading into Selection Sunday.

And make no mistake, Minnesota certainly does want to make the Big Dance.

"That's big," Ahanmisi said. "Us seniors, we do think about it."