Despite All the Winning, Gophers MBB Struggling in Rankings

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Under the guidance of Ben Johnson, the Golden Gophers men’s basketball team has had an impressive start to the 2023-’24 season. With a record of 12-3 and a 3-1 standing in Big Ten play, they’re on a seven-game winning streak as conference play is heating back up.

Guys like Mike Mitchell Jr., Elijah Hawkins and Pharrel Payne have all stepped up and become major contributors next to star big man Dawson Garcia and blossoming freshman, Cam Christie.

Related: Ben Johnson Found a Future Star in True Freshman Cam Christie

Minnesota Gophers vs NET and KenPom rankings

But despite Minnesota’s improved play on both ends of the floor and the wins they’ve piled up early in the season, they’re having troubles climbing up the various ranking systems in college basketball, currently sitting 88 in the NCAA NET Rankings and 78 in the KenPom.

NET RankingsKenPom Rankings
84. USC (8-7)74. Saint Joseph’s (10-4)
85. Georgia (11-3)75. Liberty (11-5)
86. Drake (11-3)76. James Madison (14-1)
87. Akron (8-4)77. UC Irvine (11-5)
88. Minnesota (12-3)78. Minnesota (12-3)
89. Cornell (9-3)79. Maryland (9-6)
90. Duquesne (8-5)80. Syracuse (10-4)
91. App State (9-4)81. Stanford (7-7)
92. Michigan (6-9)82. Boston College (10-4)

Both the NET and KenPom rankings are calculated through advanced statistics and efficiency. The NET keys on beating good teams, especially on the road, and blowing out bad teams. On top of winning games, you need to have a good NET efficiency rating.

Obviously, these rankings aren’t perfect but the fact that they both have the Gophers in the same ballpark tells the story of why they still have a lot of mountain to climb, if they want to be considered an NCAA Tournament team.

Luckily for Minnesota, there is plenty of time to raise their ranking, and while their schedule has been light to this point, they’ll have plenty of opportunities vs better competition throughout the rest of their Big Ten schedule.

What are the experts saying?

One of the most well-known and highly regarded voices in Big Ten basketball is Andy Katz (Big Ten Network), who updates his own non-algorithm based rankings throughout the season. On Tuesday, Katz placed the Gophers as his 9th best Big Ten team, as of today.

9th seems a bit low, especially since the Gophers’ 3-1 conference record, not to mention they’re ranked behind Nebraska (6th), despite already beating them earlier this season. The other two Big Ten opponents that Minnesota has beaten this season, Maryland (11) and Michigan (14th) sit at or near the bottom of Katz’ rankings.

Related: Gophers Resume Big Ten Play with Win Over Wolverines in Ann Arbor

The most well-known bracketologist in college basketball is Joe Lunardi, (ESPN). In Lunardi’s latest bracket projections, he has only six Big Ten teams getting into the NCAA Tournament, with Nebraska being his “second team out”.

Beating Nebraska seems to be the biggest thing the Gophers currently have going for their March Madness resume and could end up being the early victory that helps them eventually get in.

Related: Gophers MBB Grabs Another Early Season Big Ten Win vs Maryland

Why are the Gophers low in rankings and how will they climb?

The primary reason for the Gophers’ relatively low ranking at the start of the season is likely due to their limited exposure to true road games, having played only two so far this season (1-1), with a total point differential of -8.

Success in away games holds significant weight in college basketball, especially if the victories come with a substantial point margin. As the Gophers progress through the Big Ten season, they face a stretch of eight out of their last 16 games on the road.

While maintaining their home court advantage is crucial, the key to making significant strides in the rankings is by beating good teams (preferably on the road) and securing double-digit victories vs lesser competition.

But again, the Minnesota Gophers play in the Big Ten and their conference season is only 5 games old. If they win more games than they lose, they will have a chance at dancing. If they can win the games they should, and steal some that they shouldn’t, they’ve set themselves up early to be a lock.

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