Sunday, February 24, 2013

Where do the Gophers stand?

As of Sunday morning, the Gophers RPI is a robust 15 with the number 1 strength of schedule.  I know what you're thinking, "Number 1 SoS? Get out of here", but it's the truth.  Whether by design, luck, or something in between the Gophers managed to face very few true cupcakes this year.  Going by RPI, only American (#286) and North Florida (#224) rank outside the top 200, which is cupcake territory.  Every other opponent was at least decent, and having faced Duke (#1), Indiana (#6), Michigan State x 2 (#7), Michigan (#9), Memphis (#18), Ohio State (#23), Wisconsin x 2 (#24), Illinois x 2 (#33), Stanford (#67), Florida State (#68), Richmond (#80), South Dakota State (#84), North Dakota State (#86), Iowa x 2 (#90), Nebraska (#97), and USC (#100) you can see how they have the #1 SoS - I mean that is a pretty brutal slate.  That's 20 games against the RPI top 100, and for comparison sake the #2 (Duke) and #3 (Miami) team's in SoS have played 18 and 16 games against that kind of competition.

Make no mistake, the Gophers computer numbers are extraordinarily strong.  The only team to ever miss the tournament with anything resembling the Gophers' RPI was Missouri State in 2006 with an RPI of 21, but that was the year the Missouri Valley had 4 other teams get in and I'm guessing the committee wasn't about to put five teams in from a mid-major.  Plus with 6 conference losses, no impressive out of conference wins, and a first round loss in the MVC Tournament they weren't really that strong of a team anyway - the situation is in no way comparable to the Gophers. 

Breaking down the Gophers' results further, they've gone 3-6 against the RPI Top 25, 4-7 against the Top 50, and 12-8 against the top 100 - these are all really, really strong results.  Add in road/neutral wins against Memphis, Illinois, Stanford, and FSU (all top 100 teams) and everything about their resume on paper says this is absolutely a tournament team.  On paper. 

As you know since you are reading this and I assume you're a Gopher fan, the Gophers haven't done anything worth noting in over a month outside of an extremely lucky OT win versus Wisconsin.  They're currently in a 3-8 skid, and the last two losses have been really, really ugly  - that matters.  Right now the Gophers are on the bubble, but they're on the right side of the bubble.  Joe Lunardi at ESPN has them as a 10 seed right now, but I'm guessing even a guy who somehow makes a living projecting the tournament field has no idea what to do with such a bizarre profile where the on court results and computer numbers don't match up. 

I think for the Gophers to make it in the tournament it's pretty simple - they just need to finish strong.  Whether it's beating Indiana, as unlikely as that feels right now, or by winning their final three games (Penn State, @Nebraska, @Purdue), a strong finish likely puts them in regardless of the results in the B10 Tournament.  But fail to beat Indiana and drop one of those three games (I'm not even going to speculate on what would happen if they lost more than one, because that's pretty much season's over)?  Suddenly the B10 Tournament becomes very important.

Let's assume they end up finishing 7th.  The first round match-up would be against probably either Nebraska or Northwestern (Nebraska would be better since they're a top 100 RPI team right now).  After that if they won the Gophers would play somebody like Michigan State who would probably just crush them.  So, basically, the Gophers really need to take care of business to finish up the season.

There are plenty of other teams out there who are on the bubble and in similar shape to the Gophers, but it's not really worth worrying about them just yet because Minnesota's path is clear - finish strong.  Beat Indiana and they're probably in even if they lose on of the last three.  Lose to Indiana but finish out with three wins and they're in.  Get to 9-9 in conference play one way or another and not only will we not have to sweat selection sunday, but the B10 Tournament becomes pretty meaningless as well.  At 8-10 though?  Well, then things get awfully tight. 

I'd prefer to tackle the "fire Tubby or not" question in the offseason.  For now, I'd just like to see the Gophers back in the tournament.  Maybe even get a win. A boy can dream, can't he?

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