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Updated: January 24th, 2014 1:19pm
Pitino's Gophers on the rise in latest NCAA tourney projections

Pitino's Gophers on the rise in latest NCAA tourney projections

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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Fresh off an upset of border rival Wisconsin, Richard Pitino's Minnesota Gophers continue to be on the rise in both the Big Ten and in the eyes of nationwide onlookers.

There are still almost two months left until Selection Sunday, but the Gophers' hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament are looking increasingly solid at the moment.

Tourney analysts are taking notice. In his latest Bracketology update, ESPN's Joe Lunardi targets the Gophers (15-5, 4-3) as a No. 8-seed in the South region, facing off against former Gophers guard Justin Cobb and the Cal Bears. In that scenario, a victory would set up a likely match-up with top seed Kansas.

CBS Sports' Jerry Palm has a similar take on the Gophers. Palm projects Minnesota as the eighth seed in the West up against ninth seed Gonzaga. A potential meeting with No. 1 seed Arizona could await the winner in the Round of 32.

As Gophers basketball fans know all too well, a lot can change in the final weeks of the season.

Last year, Minnesota held a 17-5 overall record and a 5-5 mark in the Big Ten before stumbling to losses in seven of their final 10 regular season games. The Gophers ended up sneaking into the 68-team field as an 11-seed. They would go on to defeat a disoriented UCLA squad (No. 6), eventually losing to the third-seeded Florida Gators.

However, as Pitino's squad has already proven in its first 20 games, these are not the same Gophers of the Tubby Smith era. The Gophers still face an uphill battle in the season's stretch run, but with two signature wins already in hand (Ohio State and Wisconsin) they are well on track to go dancing again come March.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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