Story of the year for the Gophers, right? Play a much better, more talented team extremely close for a portion of the game and come up short. Yeah, I suppose the other stories of the year are beating a few good teams at Williams and also losing to some teams that they should beat, but this Michigan game from the tip seemed like a narrative of the year to the point where I could have written the game story before they even tipped off.
Rather than go into a whole thing where I could once again point out defensive lapses, stupid turnovers, and a seemingly pathological inability to get a loose ball, let's step back and see where the Gophers stand right now in the big picture, and try to figure out what they need to do to get a NCAA tournament bid because at this point they are basically the poster child for a bubble team.
And by the way, if I was going to write about the Michigan, and I'm not, I would definitely point out that when a defense constantly doubles the ball handler on ball screens it's pretty important for the offense to exploit that because, fun fact, if two guys are guarding one guy that means three guys are guarding four guys and if an offense has proper spacing and the ball handler has good enough anticipation and vision and the other offensive players can move the ball quickly there should be a lot of open shots. With an exception or two the Gopher offense was rarely able to take advantage of this situation, which came up a lot, and that could have made a big difference in the game. But again, I'm not going to talk about that instead let's look at some stuff.
The Gophers are now 17-12 and 7-10 in conference play, neither of which is very impressive. The RPI is 47 and the Strength of Schedule is 3, and those numbers are pretty good combined. All of which means the Gophers are squarely on the middle of the bubble, which feels way to god damn familiar. The Gophers have 2 wins over the RPI top 25 and 6 over the top 100 with no really truly bad losses, as horrific as the Illinois and Northwestern home losses feel. Basically this can still go either way. I see four distinct ways this breaks:
1) Gophers beat Penn State, lose early in the tournament (defined as first round game).
2) Gophers beat Penn State, go on a run in the tournament (defined as 2 or more wins).
3) Gophers lose to Penn State, lose early in the tournament.
4) Gophers lose to Penn State, go on a run in the tournament.
#3 isn't worth talking about because they have no shot at getting a bid in this scenario. #2 I will pass on as well because I think a three game winning streak to close it out, which would include a win over somebody good like Wisconsin, and they're comfortably in. The other two scenarios are where things get icky.
Let's say the Gophers beat Penn State, draw Illinois in the first round of the B10 tournament, and then lose to Ohio State. Is that enough? 8-10 in a very good league with an PRI likely in the low 40s? IF they had done anything at all on the road or on a neutral court this year I'd say this would probably be safe, but the committee won't look favorably on that road//neutral column. This probably makes for a really uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
How about if the Gophers lose at home against Penn State to drop to 7-11 in the Conference, but then beat Illinois and Wisconsin in the tournament? Will that be enough? Adding a quality win on a neutral court to the ledger can only help, but I feel like that loss to PSU in this scenario and the horrendous 7-11 conference record would keep them out. In this scenario I think they'd have to win the next game too against like, Michigan. Possible, but unlikely.
Three ways I see the Gophers have a shot:
1. Beat Penn State, win 2 games in the B10 Tournament. In this scenario I say they're 90% in. Probably a 9-10ish seed.
2. Beat Penn State, win 1 game in the B10 Tournament. This I would call 50/50 and would be pretty heavily dependent on how some of the conference tournaments break. Go Wichita. Probably a 12ish seed if they get in this situation.
3. Lose to Penn State, win 3 games in the B10 Tournament. This I would say is also 50/50 to get a bid. The lost to the Nittany Lions would be a pretty bad black mark, but winning three tournament games would net the Gophers two more high quality wins. In this case, even though I think it would be 50/50, if they did get in I'd guess they'd be around a 10 seed. I think the committee will either focus on the number of good wins and they'll be comfortably in, or focus on the horrible conference record and keep them way the hell out.
So I guess I'm counting on 3 straight wins to close out the season. I'm super optimistic.