Five weeks from Selection Sunday, Gophers in need of strong finish
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
The Minnesota Gophers' scrappy takedown of Indiana on Saturday came as a desperately needed reprieve, putting an end to a three-game losing skid.
At temporarily, the Gophers have found a level of composure again. With the victory, they moved to 5-6 in the Big Ten (16-8 overall) and into a tie for sixth place in the conference standings.
Five weeks removed from Selection Sunday, the Gophers' NCAA tourney hopes are still intact. But as Minnesota's fan base is well aware of, those aspirations hinge on how the Gophers finish off the final seven games of the regular season.
The identity of Richard Pitino's Gophers is much different than what it was with Tubby Smith at the helm.
However, even with the new direction of Pitino, there is still one striking, somewhat eerie, similarity between the Gophers' current season and their four previous under Smith.
This marks the fifth consecutive season the Gophers have held a 5-6 Big Ten record at this juncture in the year. They made the tournament in two of those four previous seasons (2010 and 2013).
In 2010, Minnesota was 14-9 overall during the second week of February. A 4-3 finish and a run to the Big Ten tournament title game was enough to salvage an 11-seed in the Big Dance.
Last season, the scenario was slightly different. The Gophers were 16-7 overall and found a way to nab another 11-seed bid, despite a 3-4 closing stretch.
But in the two seasons in between, their run to the finish line was too poor to overcome. Both times the Gophers went from being a tournament team in early February to feeling left out come Selection Sunday, a result of winning only one of their last seven conference games.
Can the Gophers avoid falling into the latter category again? As always, there is still much to be decided in the season's final month.
The Gophers' recent losing streak moved them perilously close to the tourney bubble. Pulling out a win over the Hoosiers gave them a little bit of breathing room but not much.
Prior to Saturday's victory, ESPN's Joe Lunardi pegged the Gophers as a 10-seed in his latest Bracketology update, noting their stock was on the decline. Even with the win, CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm listed Minnesota as one of his 12 teams "on the fence" of tournament consideration as of Sunday.
Starting Thursday in Madison, four of the Gophers' last seven games will come on the road - at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan.
Gophers' previous results 11 games into Big Ten play
2012-13 - Big Ten record: 5-6 Overall: 17-7
-- Rest of the season: Finished conference play 8-10, lost in opening round of Big Ten tournament, No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament, beat No. 6 UCLA before losing to No. 3 Florida.
2011-12 - Big Ten: 5-6 Overall: 17-7
-- Rest of the season: Finished conference play 6-12, lost in second round of Big Ten tournament, missed NCAA tournament.
2010-11 - Big Ten: 5-6 Overall: 16-7
-- Rest of the season: Finished conference play 6-12, lost in opening round of Big Ten tournament, missed NCAA tournament.
2009-10 - Big Ten: 5-6 Overall: 14-9
-- Rest of the season: Finished conference play 9-9, won two games in Big Ten tournament, No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament, lost in first round to No. 6 Xavier.