The Minnesota Golden Gophers mustered two points of a possible 12 in the final two weekends of the regular season. In a conference that is hallmarked by parity, it nearly sunk them after their mostly stellar second half of the season.
After clawing their way back from a disappointing first half to the season, the Gophers broke out of the gate at the end of 2019 and into 2020 with renewed life. That resurgence gave the team a 9-4-3 record since the Mariucci Classic, and for a team with little hope of making the NCAA Tournament in the early part of the season, it gave them more opportunity to make the cut.
Officially making the cut is still to be determined, but this past weekend’s series against Michigan that ended in a tie and a loss created a more difficult outlook for Minnesota’s tournament hopes.
As of Monday, Minnesota sits at tied for 15th in the Pairwise ranking, the system that is relied upon for the NCAA’s selection committee for the national tournament. Teams need to be in the top 14 of this ranking to have a good shot of making it into the tournament. With automatic qualifiers with conference tournament champions, this can edge out even more teams at the bottom end of that threshold.
If Minnesota had gotten one victory and split the series with Michigan, it would sit at 14th in the Pairwise ranking. If Minnesota had swept, it would sit alone in the 10th spot. To say this weekend was important would be an understatement.
Besides the national implications, the Gophers had a legitimate shot to become the regular-season champions of the Big Ten, and eventually after Friday’s result, still had a chance to be co-champions with Penn State with a victory on Saturday. Instead of sweeping Michigan for the conference title, the games slipped by and the Gophers were at the mercy of the rest of the Big Ten’s games on Saturday to determine if they would even keep a home-ice advantage for the conference tournament.
Thankfully for Minnesota, Notre Dame beat Michigan State in a shootout to solidify the road teams in the tournament. Now, that same Notre Dame team will venture to 3M Arena at Mariucci for a best-of-three series in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Gophers’ chances of the NCAA Tournament look slim if they can’t get past the first or even second round. While it is still possible with many other scenarios playing out, the team’s chances are looking increasingly like they had midseason: Minnesota’s best hope is to get to the Big Ten Championship game and emerge with the conference title.