Bracketology: Gophers slipping in projections after loss to Illinois

The Gophers are firmly on the bubble entering their final five games.
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Marcus Carr / Gopher Basketball

Back on Jan. 16, the Minnesota Golden Gopher men's basketball team appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. With an 18-point win at Williams Arena over Michigan, the Gophers had an impressive tournament resume that also included wins over Iowa and Ohio State.

With an easy schedule ahead of them, the Gophers appeared to be on their way to a tournament appearance. Instead, the Gophers have gone 2-6 since upsetting Michigan and are now officially on the NCAA tournament bubble.

After a 94-63 loss at home to No. 5 Illinois on Saturday, the real-time projections currently have the Gophers (13-10) among the last four in (or out) of the NCAA tournament.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi is one of the optimistic projections as he has the Gophers as one of the last four teams into the tournament along with Maryland, St. Bonaventure, and Stanford. By virtue, Lunardi has the Gophers facing the Bonnies in a Thursday "First Four" matchup that would determine who would face Creighton in Region 4.

CBS Sportsline's Jerry Palm is on the other side of the debate, listing the Gophers as one of the first four teams out of the tournament. In his projection, he has Minnesota watching the tournament along with Seton Hall, North Carolina, and Stanford.

The more interesting nugget is who the Gophers are chasing. Indiana is listed as one of the last four in, which may have been a result of the Hoosiers' victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night. Palm also has Boise State, Drake, and Colorado as part of his last four in.

The good news for the Gophers is that the rest of their conference schedule appears winnable as three of the final four games are against Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State. 

All three are below Minnesota in the Big Ten standings, and if they can earn a home win over Rutgers (12-8) in the regular-season finale, they could be a conference tournament win away from making the tournament.

But the Gophers also need to solve their bigger issues including getting their first road victory of the season. With Gabe Kalscheur out three-to-four weeks with a hand injury and Liam Robbins nursing an ankle injury, the Gophers' season is on the brink. 

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