Battle for NCAA tourney bid rages on for men’s hoops

Brian Hall

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson offers a simple message amid a clouded postseason picture.

Considered an NCAA tournament bubble team headed into the final week of regular season play, the Gophers are trying to block out the equations and scenarios designed to predict their Big Dance chances.

Monson has issued a simple directive to his team, the same one he has delivered before recent games: “Worry about what you can control. Worry about how hard you play, how well you concentrate and how hard you compete.”

Minnesota failed in its task last Thursday losing to Michigan State, but a battle still continues between the two schools.

With Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin probable tournament locks, the Gophers, Spartans – and Northwestern – are fighting for one to two remaining NCAA slots.

Minnesota and Michigan State each have eight Big Ten wins while the Wildcats are one game behind.

But, the Gophers (15-10, 8-6 Big Ten) could seemingly end any hope for Northwestern with a win against the Wildcats on Wednesday at Williams Arena.

“I feel confident that if we win these next two games we will be in a good position,” Monson said. “If we don’t, then we better go win two in the tournament. We need a couple more wins for sure, just on the basis that you have to end strong.

“If we lose our last three, then it’s six out of seven and there is no way.”

Minnesota and Michigan State each have two games remaining. The Spartans travel to Ohio State and finish up at home against Iowa. Meanwhile, the Gophers host Northwestern and Illinois.

As the fight comes down to a Gophers-Michigan State contest, the bigger concern might lie in how many invitations the conference receives.

One possibility has the Big Ten receiving six bids with both Minnesota and the Spartans ushered in the door.

“(The conference) can get six if it breaks right for those six,” Monson said. “But, there is about four of us that have to do some things in the right direction here in the last week, because we could also get two or three. That is the nature of it right now.”

Winning one of their next two games would give the Gophers nine conference wins. Only one team with nine wins – Iowa in 1998 – has failed to reach the tournament since 1997-98, the year the Big Ten expanded its schedule to 16 games.

According to Jim Marchiony, the NCAA media coordinator for the men’s basketball tournament, the selection committee will look at a series of factors including Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), whom teams have beaten, strength of schedule and, particularly, the non-conference opponents.

“We know who teams have to play,” Marchiony said. “We like to look at who teams choose to play.”

Minnesota is currently 63rd in the RPI. The last team with a rating lower than 63 to receive an invite were the Gophers, No. 66, in 1995.

Due to its non-conference schedule, Michigan State might be the more attractive candidate. The Spartans had a 38 RPI ranking heading into the week.

Though unlikely to meet again this season, Minnesota and Michigan State have one another’s attention.