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Updated: February 3rd, 2014 9:27pm
Despite recent slide, 'U' still projected as 8-seed in NCAA tourney

Despite recent slide, 'U' still projected as 8-seed in NCAA tourney

by Nate Sandell
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As was made clear by the postgame scene in the locker room Saturday after a loss to Northwestern, the Minnesota Gophers are currently stuck in the lowest point of their season so far.

One game after falling flat at Nebraska, a dismal start and missed chances late culminated in a loss to the Wildcats that dropped Minnesota to back-to-back defeats for the only the second time this year.

In the Gophers' defense, they have been without Andre Hollins, who has been sidelined for the last week with an ankle injury. But with losses in four of their last six games, the Gophers are in need of staving off a downward slide in the Big Ten.

When it comes to projecting the NCAA tournament field, Richard Pitino's squad is still safely in.

CBS Sports' Jerry Palm's outlook on the Gophers has gone relatively unchanged in the last couple weeks. Like he did two weeks ago, Palm has Minnesota slotted as an eight-seed, meeting No. 9 New Mexico in top seed Wichita State's region.

USA Today shares Palm's view, also predicting Minnesota as an eight-seed. In that scenario, the Gophers would face Virginia Commonwealth in the West region, with a potential match-up with No. 1-seed Arizona awaiting the winner.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi won't release his newest Bracketology projection until later in the week, but he stayed with the "Minnesota at No. 8" theme last week, which was posted between the Nebraska and Northwestern losses. Like the USA Today, he had the Gophers playing VCU.

While the Gophers remain in good shape as far as their tourney hopes go, a continuation of their current losing trend could inch them closer to being part of the tournament bubble conversation. Minnesota visits Purdue (13-9, 3-6) Wednesday before returning home Saturday to take on Indiana 14-8, 4-5).

The Gophers own a 4-5 record in the Big Ten, 15-7 overall, and sit in the middle of the conference standings.

This is a new year with a new regime at the helm, but for sake of comparison, the Gophers were 17-5, 5-4 in the Big Ten, at this juncture last season. They went on to close out the regular season with losses in six of their final nine games, sneaking into the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed.

Pitino's team has just under six weeks left to ensure they stay off the bubble.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to
Email Nate | @nsandell