March 13, 2013 at 1:34 am

Matt Charboneau

Big Ten notebook: Tournament success is vital for Minnesota

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan agrees with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo: The Big Ten season should carry more weight than the tournament. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times)

In early January, the notion Minnesota would be wondering if it were an NCAA Tournament team seemed far-fetched.

Minnesota had rolled through its nonconference schedule, losing only to a Duke team ranked fifth at the time. It opened Big Ten play with three straight victories, including one over Michigan State and a blowout of Illinois.

Not only did the NCAA Tournament seem like a lock, a high seed and a shot at the Big Ten title seemed to be in the cards.

Life, however, rarely remains that good. And for the Gophers, things quickly turned for the worse.

Minnesota lost its next four games and plodded its way to an 8-10 Big Ten finish, and finds itself the No. 9 seed heading into this week's conference tournament.

And while the RPI numbers remains solid, Gophers coach Tubby Smith isn't counting on anything.

"I think we've got to be fighting for it all the time," Smith said. "There's a lot of (areas) we're suspect. Our full body of work is probably as good as anybody else's around, so we're at least in the top 20 or 30, I would think, as far as RPI and things like that and the good wins, the quality of wins that we've had.

"But again, they look at what you've done lately, too, and so that's where we've got to step up in this tournament."

Minnesota has an RPI of 24 and still is solidly in the Tournament on most boards, but a loss to Illinois on Thursday could begin to make some members of the selection committee begin to doubt the Gophers.

"I think a lot of it has to do with how you just play," Smith said. "There's not a lot of preparation time, you just go in and play. There's not a whole lot of thinking, or a whole lot of game preparation, and that may be better suited for us."

Season title is real deal

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has never hidden his feelings that the Big Ten tournament should not determine the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. To him, winning the regular-season title — an 18-game grind — is more of an accomplishment.

It appears Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is of the same mold.

"Winning a conference over an extended period of time shows the grit and mettle of a team being able to hang in there for months," said Ryan, named the Big Ten coach of the year. "Tournaments were made for money. … Anybody that would ever say the Big Ten tournament winner would be the champions of the conference; I've always thought was ludicrous."

Nice recovery for Weber

Bruce Weber was named the Big 12 coach of the year after leading Kansas State to a share of the conference title, one year after he was fired at Illinois.

It was refreshing news for many coaches in the Big Ten.

"He's a great coach and an even better person," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "When he fell at Illinois, he fell upstairs. He's in a place now that is a perfect fit for him."

Campaign wears on Miles

The job Tim Miles has in front of him, trying to turn Nebraska into a contender, will not be simple. And he lamented how difficult his first season was.

"I've got a whole bunch of new gray hair to thank the Big Ten for," he said.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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