Despite dropping six of their last eight games, the Gophers' tournament résumé remains as strong as ever under Tubby Smith.
A 15-1 start with wins over Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, Michigan State and Illinois gave the Gophers their first Top-10 ranking since the vacated 1996-97 season. It also solidified their place in NCAA tournament projections, as they were a solid No. 3 seed, if not higher.
Luckily for Minnesota, their early-season charge and immensely difficult conference schedule outweighs that recent swoon of losses.
Top-15 rankings in RPI (13) and non-conference strength of schedule (12) combined with Top-10 slots for overall strength of schedule (3), opponent strength of schedule (7) and non-conference RPI (2) bode well for Tubby Smith.
The Gophers' conference-opening victory over Michigan State is easily their biggest résumé-booster, but also hold Top 50 RPI wins over Memphis and Illinois. The defeat of the Spartans might be enough to outweigh their lone 50-plus RPI loss to Northwestern in January.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN has dropped the Gophers from that No. 3 seed to No. 6 in his February 12 Bracketology. This came following the Northwestern defeat and subsequent losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois. That seed could easily be bumped up with season-defining victories in the next two weeks as they welcome both Wisconsin and Indiana to Williams Arena.
Their remaining schedule features those two Top 40 RPI teams in Wisconsin (31) and Indiana (11) but also a crucial trip to Ohio State (23) on February 20.
What does this all mean?
Minnesota must win at least three of its seven remaining games in order to have a shot at a No. 8 seed or better. However, their matchup with the Badgers Thursday is nearly a must-win if they expect a semi-friendly road in March.
A one-and-done come tourney time will not sit well with the "U" administration, making the next four weeks imperative to Tubby's future in Minneapolis.