Despite latest loss, Minnesota continues to be college basketball's best bet

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College basketball is about to arrive at the business end of the regular season, and that means teams are gearing up for conference tournaments and March Madness. While the Minnesota Golden Gophers may be currently on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament without a furious finish, there has plenty of madness to their season.

With a deflating 105-97 loss Wednesday night to No. 13 Illinois, Minnesota fell to 17-11 overall and a pedestrian 8-9 in Big Ten play. Despite their latest setback, the Golden Gophers still moved to a staggering 24-4 record against the spread, good for a staggering 86 percent cover rate.

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Minnesota continues ATS dominance

To contextualize just how good of a bet Minnesota has been this season, the two teams tied for the next best against the spread performance, Richmond (20-7-1 ATS) and Cal State Northridge (20-7 ATS) have covered at a 74 percent clip.

While the Golden Gophers have spent most of the season as a virtual lock, teams likeO ld Dominoon, Pacific, and Stephen F Austin have been an ATS nightmare with each covering the spread at a 25 percent rate or less.

Perhaps most remarkable about Minnesota's ability to beat the spread is its overall consistency. The Golden Gophers raced out to a 14-1 ATS mark through 15 games. Typically, when a team develops into a cover machine, the market will correct itself, and yet Minnesota still boasts a stellar 10-3 ATS mark over its last 13 games.

Perhaps helping the cause is that despite its cover success, Minnesota's uneven performance has helped the school fly under the radar. Generally, the nation's top-ranked teams generate more betting action. In turn, oddsmakers begin to inflate odds, making it harder to beat the spread. In the case of the Golden Gophers, who have dropped four of their last six games, there isn't exactly a ton of national buzz behind them.

Can Minnesota still reach the NCAA Tournament?

While Minnesota has been a great ATS bet this season, Ben Johnson's team feels like tough bet to be dancing this March. Still, there a path exists for a late-season push to sneak into the dance.

An improbable run will have to begin immediately when Minnesota, which is 15-3 at home this season, hosts Penn State this Saturday before Indiana visits Minneapolis on March 6. The season wraps at Northwestern (20-8) on March 9 with a matchup that would give Minnesota a key "Quad 1″ win.

Of course, all conference tournament winners receive automatic bids to the tournament, but that will be a tall task for Minnesota given the state of the Big Ten. Still, should Minnesota win out to finish the regular season and make it to at least the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, it could mean the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019.

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