Jan 26, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Minnesota Gophers head coach Tubby Smith talks to guard Joe Coleman (left) as their team plays the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota 45-44. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Gophers are walking tightrope, but not yet on the bubble

Feb 14, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; The Minnesota Gophers barnyard honors head coach Tubby Smith as he is announced before the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Williams Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Even with a string of losses in the last few weeks, including a blow-out loss at Ohio State Wednesday evening, Minnesota is still not on the bubble.

While Tubby Smith continues to be grilled on the hot seat with a record of 18-9, the types of the losses that the Gophers have accumulated over the season should keep the team in check when March arrives.

A lot of that is due to the toughness of the Big Ten Conference. Minnesota still ranks in the top-25 in RPI in the nation, even with nine losses.

The only loss that really hurt Minnesota this season came at Northwestern, where historically the team hasn’t played well.  The Wildcats came out with a stringy zone defense that constrained Smith’s lineup, resulting in an embarrassing loss.

Even a road match up against an average Big Ten is not a simple task. The game against Iowa on Sunday showed that again as Minnesota was up by 16 points at one point but ended up losing by 21.

The Big Ten will likely to get seven teams into the NCAA tournament.  Thanks to a down year from Purdue, a team like Iowa have an opportunity to push themselves into the tournament conversation.

While the trip to the Bahamas was months ago, it will still be prevalent come Selection Sunday.  Two victories over possible tournament teams in Stanford and Memphis along with an admirable defeat against Duke is an achievement that will likely be factored in with the tournament seeding.

The Memphis Tigers are on a 16-game winning streak while the Stanford Cardinals should finished with a .500 record in the PAC-12.

Minnesota is currently projected to be the eight-seed for the NCAA tournament.

As a result of the Bahamas and other parts of the non-conference schedule, Minnesota has played one of the toughest schedules in the nation this season.  Tennessee State, Richmond, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State all look as quality victories as they all rank in the current top-100.

But then there was the Big Ten season.

The season that the Gophers have historically played miserably started off well. The New Year’s Eve victory over Michigan State has proven to be huge for the Gophers.  Minnesota was able to take care of business by 13 points and vaulted itself into the top 10 if just for a moment following the victory against the Spartans.

A thrashing against a ranked Illinois followed and a big home victory versus Wisconsin last week will look favorable for Smith and his squad.

With four games remaining in conference play, Smith cannot allow his team to falter.

While the Gophers are still projected to play in the tournament, they are close to falling into the bubble.

The Gophers would fall into the bubble if the team lost against a game against either Purdue, Nebraska, or Penn State.  Neither of the three opponents are destined for the postseason, and The Nittany Lions have yet to win a game within the Big Ten this season.

A lost to any of these three teams would epitomize a latter-season downfall.

Minnesota must recollect itself over the long weekend and prepare for top-ranked Indiana on Tuesday.

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