The Big Ten seems to keep getting better and better, which means the conference schedule gets tougher and tougher. Conference schedules were released for all Big Ten teams this afternoon, you can view the composite schedule here, Minnesota’s schedule is below.
|01/02/14||vs. Michigan *||Williams Arena||6:00 p.m. CT|
|01/05/14||vs. Purdue *||Williams Arena||TBA|
|01/08/14||at Penn State *||University Park, Pa.||6:00 p.m. CT|
|01/11/14||at Michigan State *||East Lansing, Mich.||1:15 p.m. CT|
|01/16/14||vs. Ohio State *||Williams Arena||8:00 p.m. CT|
|01/19/14||at Iowa *||Iowa City, Iowa||12:00 p.m. CT|
|01/22/14||vs. Wisconsin *||Williams Arena||8:00 p.m. CT|
|01/26/14||at Nebraska *||Lincoln, Neb.||5:00 p.m. CT|
|02/01/14||vs. Northwestern *||Williams Arena||1:00 p.m. CT|
|02/05/14||at Purdue *||West Lafayette, Ind.||7:30 p.m. CT|
|02/08/14||vs. Indiana *||Williams Arena||7:15 p.m. CT|
|02/13/14||at Wisconsin *||Madison, Wis.||8:00 p.m. CT|
|02/16/14||at Northwestern *||Evanston, Ill.||5:00 p.m. CT|
|02/19/14||vs. Illinois *||Williams Arena||8:00 p.m. CT|
|02/22/14||at Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||TBA|
|02/25/14||vs. Iowa *||Williams Arena||6:00 p.m. CT|
|03/01/14||at Michigan *||Ann Arbor, Mich.||5:00 p.m. CT|
The Golden Gophers’ conference slate starts out with a bang, at home against Michigan, features several winnable games in January, and then February happens. The irony of a nearly impossible stretch of games during the conference season’s most crucial month is a bit amusing, since it was a lack of February success that cost Tubby Smith his job. If Richard Pitino wants to differentiate himself from his predecessor, having a successful February would certainly be one way to do it.
Now for a few more thoughts
There have been some brutal stretches in recent seasons, but I can’t recall anything as bad as the schedule from February 5 through March 1st. Over those four weeks, Kurtz could even be sent over the edge and there is the very real possibility that the Gophers won’t win a single game. They haven’t won at Purdue in years. Indiana could be beatable, but will probably be in the top 10. Playing in Madison and Evanston usually leads to losses. Illinois will be young, but much better in February than early in the season. Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan will all likely be in the top 15. If the Gophers win two games during that stretch, it might be time to offer Richard Pitino a raise.
When to make some sweeping declarations
With a new coach, a new system, and new players, there will inevitably be some growing pains in the first few months of the season. By the time January rolls around, we should be able to see what we have. The first four games of the Big Ten season should be a good barometer. The Gophers have two home games and two road games, and one of each is winnable. A record of two and two would suggest that a trip to the NCAA tournament is possible. Anything better, and the rest of the season should be fun to watch. Anything worse, and it is time to care too much about recruiting.
Best chance for an upset
Bo Ryan’s teams tend to struggle at The Barn, and they catch the Gophers at a very bad time. They will be coming off games at Indiana and at home against Michigan, and then off to play much improved Purdue after playing in The Barn. It will be a rivalry game, but it may be difficult for the Badgers to muster the intensity they need to beat the Gophers.
Best chance to get upset
Is it even an upset for the Gophers to lose in Evanston after they’ve done it so many times? Even Clem Haskins had difficulty winning in the dilapidated dump that is Welsh Ryan Arena. Bill Carmody and his 1-3-1 is finally gone. Tubby Smith’s inability to score against a 1-3-1 is finally gone, but the decrepit arena remains, and with it, the Gophers destroying ghosts live below the fold-out bleachers.
Best road trip
Traversing Iowa in February is hardly exciting (unless you end up in a snow drift, which could make things interesting) but it may be worth it to see Nebraska’s shiny new arena, which opens this season. By all accounts it would put the rest of the Big Ten to shame. The Gophers play on a Sunday, so you’d only miss one day of work too.
Right now I can’t see the Gophers finishing above .500 in the Big Ten, especially with the news today that Rakeem Buckles will need to go another round with the NCAA. The Hollinses should be good for six wins on their own, but they might not have enough help to win many more games.