How Can Minnesota Gophers Make the 2024 NCAA Tournament?

minnesota gophers basketball ncaa tournament
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

As March draws near, the Minnesota Gophers are gearing up for some annual madness. The Big Ten Tournament kicks off at Target Center on Wednesday, March 13th. Ben Johnson’s 2023-24 squad is currently 7th in the conference standings.

When the regular season ends, the top eight teams will receive first round byes, the top four teams will be awarded a double bye. With his back up against the wall and his job on the line, Ben has responded with one of the most talented basketball teams that the University has put on the floor in recent history.

The Gophers are currently 17-9 (8-7) and ranked 72nd in the NET. If they finish with 10 conference wins or more, it will be just the third time that’s happened at Minnesota since before the turn of the century (2016-17, 2004-05).

After a win at The Barn on Thursday night vs former Gopher Jamison Battle and the Ohio State Buckeyes, Minnesota is knocking on the door into NCAA Tournament conversations, but most bracketologists still refuse to acknowledge their existence.

Why? Because of their #72 NET Ranking. Head coach Ben Johnson wanted to build confidence in a team that desperately needed to see some W’s pile up early on. It worked, in a sense, but it also hurt in today’s college basketball, which is ruled by NET rankings.

What are the NET Rankings and why do they matter?

Sure, there is still a committee that holds final say on who goes dancing on Selection Sunday, but it’s the NET Rankings that they are instructed to hold most valuable. Here’s how the NET Rankings work and how they are weighted. The first bullet point explains Minnesota’s low ranking, despite a chance at making history as a program:

  • Beating bad teams won’t really help you, but losing to them will destroy you
  • Road wins are more valuable than home wins
  • Offensive & Defensive Efficiencies matter too, along with margin of victory

Quad System: In the NET Rankings system, the entire country is broken down into four different tiers or “quads”, but a team’s quad can be different, depending on where the game is played. Beat a top-30 team, it’s a Quad 1 win no matter the location. On the road, however, any opponent with a top-75 NET Ranking becomes Quad 1.

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The Gophers are 1-5 vs Quad 1 opponents this season and have three such games left. All of them are on the road: @ Nebraska, @ Illinois and @ Northwestern. The Gophers have already beaten Nebraska and Northwestern at home. Both wins were Quad 2, because the games were played at Williams Arena (where only top-30 counts as Q1).

Beating Iowa in Iowa City would have counted as Quad 1, which is why blowing that massive 19-point 2nd half lead hurt the Gophers March Madness chances so badly. Ben Johnson and his boys have handled all quad 4 games and don’t have any remaining. The Gophers’ only Quad 3 loss came vs Indiana, on the road. They get that rematch on March 6.

Minnesota Remaining Opponent Quads

Quad 1
NETQuad 2
Quad 3
NETQuad 4
@ NW

How can the Minnesota Gophers get into the NCAA Tournament?

So, the question arises: how do the Minnesota Gophers secure a spot on the tourney dance floor next month? The easy answer is to win the Big Ten Tournament. Since that has never happened in the program’s history, it’s probably not a route we should count on, though.

Luckily, if the Gophers handle their business the rest of the regular season, they’ll be in the final field of 68, no matter what Jon Rothstein thinks. What will that take? Again, their NET Ranking Friday morning is #72. To safely secure an at-large bid, they need to get to #60. If they can rise to #65~ish, Selection Sunday will be a sweat

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This five-game stretch to close the season will decide their fate, and there isn’t a lot of room for error. But really, the most important game is Sunday. Lose @ #43 Nebraska and it’ll be an uphill battle the rest of the way. But get a win in Lincoln and the Gophers will add their second Q1 victory of the season and impossible for bracketologists to ignore.

At that point, it would be more about not screwing things up. Stay close vs Illinois and Northwestern, DO NOT lose at home vs struggling Penn State or Indiana and it’d be hard to keep the Gophers out. Throw in a Big Ten Tourney win or maybe an upset in Northwestern to close the regular season, and they’ll probably be a lock.

If the Gophers win three of their final five games, they’ll reach 12 conference wins for the first time since 1996-97, which doesn’t officially count. So officially, it would be the first time since 1981-82.

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