Consecutive wins boost confidence, NCAA résumé

Andrew Krammer

Senior Trevor Mbakwe promised he’d repay his scholarship if the Gophers missed the NCAA tournament this year.

He probably won’t have to.

Minnesota is 5-5 against top-25 teams this season, a reputable mark for playing in the Big Ten conference, where even unranked teams provide a stiff challenge.

“I think we’ve made a good case for ourselves,” head coach Tubby Smith said of his team’s NCAA tournament chances.

But back-to-back wins, including a victory over No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday, have the Gophers thinking past an NCAA tournament bid.

“We’re real good,” senior Julian Welch said. “When everybody’s contributing, in our eyes we’re Final Four caliber.”

The Gophers ranked at the top of the nation in strength of schedule last week, and they should remain highly ranked despite playing lowly Penn State on Saturday. 

Minnesota has a realistic chance to win its last two games at Nebraska and Purdue and head into the Big Ten tournament on a four-game winning streak.

If so, the Gophers would finish with a 10-8 record in the Big Ten, Smith’s first winning record in the conference during his six-year tenure.

Senior Rodney Williams, who has combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds in the past two wins, said it’s important to get hot at the right time.

“For us to catch fire like we have been doing the last two games,” he said, “I think this is a real good time to do it going into the tournaments.”