By Jeff Fett
The Gopher men's basketball team is feeling the urgency to get a few more wins to hopefully solidify their NCAA tournament fate as they enter the B1G Basketball Tournament later this weekend in Chicago (Gophers play Illinois Thursday at 11 a.m.).
The year has moved quickly with the team experiencing a wide range of emotions this season. Starting guard Austin Hollins says the team just needs to win.
Trevor Mbakwe and the ninth-seeded Gophers will take on eighth-seeded Illinois Thursday in the opening round of the B1G Tournament.
"The season has flown by so fast so its come down to this and you know we got to win out, that's our goal right now," Hollins said. "(When we) get to the Big Ten Tournament, we need to win the Big Ten Tournament to go to the NCAA Tournament, so you know we got our goals set still. We're still trying to achieve those (goals) so it's just a matter of taking care of business."
The Gophers have built their case to be in the NCAA Tourney. With quality wins over Stanford, Memphis, Richmond, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, the Gophers have put themselves in the discussion for an at large berth.
Minnesota also has a myriad of other factors in their favor. Their strength of schedule is second in the nation and their opponents' strength of schedule is tops in the nation.
The Gophers RPI is also among the top 20 in the nation. The RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is important, because it measures a team's strength of schedule and the records of the teams in which they play as well.
The Gophers also are 13-9 against opponents with an RPI in the top 100 in the nation.
With the tournament season upon them, head coach Tubby Smith says Minnesota needs to remain focused.
"We know we've got a chance to get to the post-season and play in the NCAAs, but we've got a lot of work to do and I think our guys have to stay hungry and focused and take it one day at a time and one game at a time, then everything else will take care of itself if we do that," Smith said.
"We've shown we can play with anyone... We expected to be better in the Big 10, but we've beaten Michigan State, Wisconsin and others. We've beaten some good teams and with Indiana, we've competed with some good teams in the top 20 and top 100. We have the toughest schedule in college basketball, so we know what we're capable of."