Back on bubble, Minnesota looks for more

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA tournament selection committee is headquartered only blocks away from Conseco Fieldhouse. Minnesota hopes they know what's going on in the neighborhood.

Minnesota's 76-55 rout of No. 11 seed Penn State on Thursday night doesn't qualify as a quality win, according to the committee's standards. But it certainly qualifies as an impressive one, the second straight for Minnesota, which pounded Iowa 88-53 on Sunday. Aside from a miserable performance March 2 at Michigan, Minnesota has picked up its play the last three weeks.

None of it will matter, though, unless the Gophers upset No. 3 seed Michigan State in Friday's Big Ten tournament quarterfinals (Big Ten Network, approximately 9 p.m. ET).

"They're a great team, they're nationally ranked," Gophers guard Blake Hoffarber said, "so any time you get a win like that on your résumé, it's a good thing."

Minnesota boasts solid victories against Butler, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but it likely needs at least one more RPI booster Friday to have a chance on Selection Sunday. Michigan State provides the opportunity, as would a potential semifinal matchup against Purdue.

Head coach Tubby Smith is trying to stay in the moment, but he admits his players don't live in a bubble but rather on one.

"They see, read, they're intelligent kids," Smith said.

"It's always in the back of your head," Hoffarber said. "You see it on ESPN all the time, the bubble talk."

After an inconsistent season, the Gophers also know the only way they get back in the bracket is to keep winning.

"I don't think any of us would be satisfied with getting one or two wins here," center Ralph Sampson III said. "The team's morale is to get as many wins as possible. We're going to have to trust ourselves and trust what we've done."

Minnesota dropped both of its meetings with Michigan State this year, by a combined eight points. It took a Kalin Lucas jumper in the closing seconds to lift the Spartans to a 65-64 win at Williams Arena on Jan. 23.

"We know there's a lot on the line," center Colton Iverson said. "We can't let anything slip away any more. This is our last chance to get to our goal, to get to the tournament."