It hasn’t always been pretty, but as the Minnesota Golden Gophers prepare for this week’s Big Ten Tournament, things appear to be in decent shape. The Gophers are likely heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017 and have had a solid season. The team is simply hoping to build on its resume and lock up an NCAA bid in the coming days.
So, can Minnesota lock up an NCAA bid this weekend? Let’s take a look.
As the seven seed, Minnesota will tipoff play in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday against Penn State. It figures to be a really intriguing game between two of the league’s more talented, but inconsistent units. A win here would push Minnesota to 20-12, which would likely be enough to lock up an NCAA bid.
Despite the fact that Penn State is the lower seeded team, KenPom actually favors the Nittany Lions in the team’s opening round matchup. Penn State is slotted as a one-point favorite with 53 percent odds of making it past Minnesota.
The main reason Penn State is a favorite here is because of how well it’s been playing over the last five weeks. If you look at the advanced stats since Penn State beat Northwestern on February 4th, it’s jaw dropping. Per TRank, Penn State ranks eighth (!!!) nationally in team efficiency since beating the Wildcats for the team’s first Big Ten win. That’s above teams like Duke, Houston, Michigan State, and Tennessee.
Still, this is certainly a game that Minnesota can win. The Gophers won the only regular season meeting between the two and Penn State is well below .500 for a reason. The Nittany Lions have already lost nine games to teams outside the top 40 on KenPom.
This matchup will likely come down to some of the younger guards in the backcourt for both teams. How do Myles Dread and Jamari Wheeler perform for the Nittany Lions and what can Gabe Kalscheur do for the Gophers? Expect a tight matchup.
-If They Advance
Should Minnesota take care of business on Thursday, it will move on for a matchup against Purdue on Friday evening. Given the fact that the Boilermakers won the Big Ten’s regular season title and have only lost two games over the last two months, there’s no denying that this would be a difficult matchup for the Gophers.
However, Purdue is far from unbeatable. The Boilermakers just lost to Minnesota last week and nearly lost to teams like Indiana, Nebraska, and Penn State during the regular season. Purdue also lost to a mediocre Notre Dame team in non-conference play.
Should Minnesota get past Purdue, it would then likely face Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines swept the regular season series, Minnesota lost on a buzzer beater when the two teams played in Ann Arbor. Michigan has also been relatively inconsistent over the last month. As such, the Gophers certainly have a shot in this game.
After that, Minnesota would likely be looking at either Michigan State or Wisconsin in a potential championship game. Those three teams are all ranked above Minnesota on KenPom, so things would be getting even tougher at that point.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, Minnesota will likely hear its name called on Selection Sunday. The Gophers have a really solid resume and should make it as an at-large team to the NCAA Tournament.
However, that isn’t a guarantee. Minnesota needs to win at least a game this weekend to lock up a bid. Unfortunately, that won’t be an easy task. The Gophers will get a red hot Penn State team on Thursday and would then have to face Purdue after that. A top 10 Michigan team could also be waiting for Minnesota on Friday.
All told, Minnesota enters the Big Ten Tournament in a relatively comfortable place and has a reasonable route to advancing. But can the team lock up an NCAA bid? We’ll find out soon.