- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Minnesota Gophers' tournament hopes died on March 2. Or so we thought.
That's when Minnesota, after winning at Illinois, attempted to build on its late-season push with a win at Michigan. That, um, didn't happen. Instead, the Gophers were walloped by a bad Michigan team, 83-55, and if you ever needed a reason to exclude the Gophers from the tournament -- and, as of March 2, you didn't -- the Michigan loss was plenty.
But look now: Minnesota is still breathing in the Big Ten tournament after wins over Penn State and yesterday's upset of No. 3 seed Michigan State, giving Minnesota its 19th and 20th victories of the year. Unsurprisingly, those wins have boosted Minnesota's tournament stock considerably. What's more surprising is that Minnesota's tournament stock isn't just vaguely better -- all of a sudden, the Gophers have a legitimate chance to sneak in the NCAA tournament.
Joe Lunardi now has Minnesota listed in his "next three out," right below Dayton and Mississippi State. That has to be the first Minnesota bracketology mention since, when, October? Of that group, only the Bulldogs are still active. Minnesota still has work to do -- leapfrogging Arizona State, Memphis, Rhode Island and Seton Hall will be no easy feat -- but it remains genuinely remarkable the Gophers are even on the bubble radar. A win over Purdue today would surely boost Minnesota's chances again, putting them right on the cusp. Then there's the Big Ten final against the winner of Ohio State and Illinois, which, duh, could mean an automatic bid for the Gophers.
Will Minnesota get in? At this point, it's still unlikely. But you have to give the Gophers credit for not doing what some of their disappointing Big Ten counterparts -- cough, Michigan -- have done, which is fade down the stretch. The Gophers are still fighting. Good for them.