With one game remaining in the regular season, the Gophers have a sub-.500 record, meaning anything short of an unlikely run in the Big Ten Tournament Championship will see them miss the NCAA Tournament.
Throughout the year, Minnesota has had plenty of opportunities to improve its resume. According to ESPN's BPI, it has the second hardest strength of schedule in Division I. However, in the likely scenario that they don't hear their name called on Selection Sunday, it would not be for a lack of effort, but rather a lack of execution.
"I think we have some really good kids," head coach Richard Pitino said. "We are just losing some close games."
Between Feb. 8 and March 1, the Gophers dropped five of six games, four of those defeats came by six points or less. The only exception was a 68-56 loss to Indiana on Feb. 19, a contest in which Minnesota led by as many as 10 points.
"We compete with everybody in this league," said sophomore Daniel Oturu. "There's no doubt in my mind that we can beat anyone in this league. We are just going through it right now."
The team's struggles to close out games came to the forefront last week. Hosting No. 9 Maryland, the Gophers had a chance to turn their season around and led the Terrapins for over 39 minutes. Late in the second half, Maryland rallied back from a 17-point deficit, pulling ahead of Minnesota with a 3-pointer in the final moments.
That game exemplified how close the Gophers have been at times to pulling off statement victories. Other notable heartbreaking losses include a 83-78 double overtime loss at Purdue on Jan. 2 and a 58-55 defeat to Iowa on Feb. 6. Against the Boilermakers, Minnesota led with less than 30 seconds left, while versus the Hawkeyes, the Gophers had an 8-point lead with 5:25 remaining but failed to score another point.
"We weren't poised as a team," said redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr after falling to Iowa. "We had five turnovers in the last six minutes and made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end."
Four days after the Maryland game, the Gophers traveled to Wisconsin. Despite scoring 12 unanswered points to tie the game in the second half, Minnesota again came up short in the final minute. Oturu put the Gophers ahead 68-67 with 47 seconds remaining, but the Badgers responded with the go-ahead bucket 17 seconds later to go in front for good.
"I feel like we played better down the stretch than we did against Iowa, Maryland or Indiana," said redshirt junior Payton Willis. "We made some big plays, [Oturu] hit some big shots, [Carr] had some big plays. But we didn't make enough winning plays to pull it out."
Following that defeat, Pitino said he found a silver lining in the effort his players showed erasing a 12-point deficit in the second half. He stated that even though the team did not get the result it wanted, the resiliency demonstrated improvement.
"I think we showed growth in a lot of areas," Pitino said. "And maybe you don't get that unless you go through some of the tough losses. So, you turn the page and move on."
Minnesota closes the regular season at home on Sunday, March 8 against Nebraska. It then heads to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. What happens after that is unknown, but it is almost certain that the team will miss the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in Pitino's seven-year tenure.