If not for a blown lead at home in their Big Ten opener against Michigan State, the Gophers men's basketball team would be riding a 10-game winning streak. Instead, it's three straight and a ton of confidence after beating Ohio State 78-68 Sunday night at Williams Arena.
Their latest win helped vault them into the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 24, for the first time since Feb. 4, 2013, according the Big Ten. Purdue (No. 17) and Wisconsin (No. 18) are the only other ranked Big Ten teams.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta called the Gophers a "very, very good basketball team," according to GopherSports.com.
At 15-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, Minnesota can extend it's winning ways and bolster its NCAA Tournament résumé with road wins this week at Michigan State on Wednesday and Penn State on Saturday. Penn State (10-7) beat Michigan State (11-6) on Saturday.
The Gophers résumé is pretty amazing right now. They're fifth nationally in RPI and strength of schedule and their only losses are to likely NCAA tourney teams, Florida State and Michigan State. They also have a win over then-15th-ranked Purdue, along with wins over solid teams like Arkansas, St. John's, Texas Arlington, Northwestern and Ohio State.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi pegged Minnesota as a 7-seed in his bracketology from Jan. 5. Minnesota has beaten Northwestern and Ohio State since then, so Lunardi's new bracket this week should put Minnesota even higher.
Remaining January schedule:
- Jan. 11 - at Michigan State
- Jan. 14 - at Penn State
- Jan. 21 - vs. Wisconsin
- Jan. 25 - at Ohio State
- Jan. 28 - vs. Maryland
Richard Pitino has to get through this week and then he gets a full week to prepare for the border battle against the Badgers. Wisconsin (13-3)is ranked No. 13 in the country – and a win over them would be Minnesota's biggest stamp of approval of the season.
There's still a lot of work to do but the Gophers appear to be on the fast track to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 and just the fifth time since 1999.