It feels like the Golden Gophers have been playing must-win games for weeks. Their bubble predicament hasn’t quite been that severe, since they still have a chance to make the tournament despite several losses in the last few weeks, but it has been close. Wins over Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State were obviously must-wins, and would have been season killers if they had been losses. Each of those wins gave the Gophers a bit of breathing room so that there would still be a shot at redemption later on. Later on begins Thursday in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Golden Gophers saved their season with a gut-wrenching 66-60 win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday. A win over the Badgers on Thursday night would inch the Gophers closer to something exceedingly rare, a stress-free Selection Sunday.
It only took ten seconds for Golden Gopher fans to have flashbacks to so many seasons lost to injuries, suspensions and unexpected departures. After knocking down the first shot of the game, on the first play of the game, Andre Hollins rolled his ankle, and would not return. Over the remaing 39:50, it was easy to forget that anything was missing, as Minnesota hammered the Wisconsin Badgers inside and out on the way to 81-68 victory.
Before every Big Ten game, we try to track down someone who knows a bit more than we can figure out from perusing statistics and box score. Andy from Madtown Badgers graciously agreed to answer a few questions prior to Richard Pitino’s first real rivalry game.
At about this time last year, the Big Ten was widely considered to be the best conference in America. The Gophers were on the verge of being a top ten team, and Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State all looked like national title contenders. The big questions entering the conference season involved how many Big Ten teams would make the final four. After a good but not great non-conference season, college basketball pundits are left with the much more pedestrian question of what various teams need to do just to make the NCAA tournament.
Instead of throwing out conference record predictions, or NCAA tournament seed projection, we’ll look at the non-conference performance of each Big Ten team, and the worst possible Big Ten record that could get each team in the tournament. That way, when your team starts struggling, you’ll know when to get nervous, and ultimately when to stop caring. In Minnesota, we have a word for this: February.
Day one of the Big Ten tournament is in the books with one surprise but a few good finishes. Now the top teams in the conference take the floor for what should be a thrilling afternoon and night.
In what was perhaps the biggest game of the season in terms of postseason implications, the Gophers fought tooth and nail against Wisconsin to notch an overtime victory that went down to the final seconds. After a solid start to the season, the Gophers ended a free fall that saw them fall out of the national top 10 to unranked oblivion where they found themselves in a familiar position: needing a win to show the country that they’re still relevant. A loss to Wisconsin meant…
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Saturday’s match-up between the Golden Gophers and the Wisconsin Badgers will be billed as rivalry weekend; reeling weekend might be more accurate. The Gophers have lost three straight games and the Badgers are coming off two losses in a row. Both teams had visions of a top four conference finish dancing in their head, and thanks to these early stumbles, it feels like that opportunity could be slipping away.
The last set of games in our schedule preview hopefully will not determine if the Golden Gophers make the NCAA tournament, but will likely go a long way in determining how far they go in the NCAA tournament. If they win all the games in the must-win and should-win categories, they won’t be on the bubble, but they also shouldn’t expect to be much better than a nine seed in the NCAA tournament. Every win the Gophers can pick up in games they should not…