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20 games down, 10 to go

I'm not sure anyone would disagree that that Gopher hoops has exceed all of our expectations.  Clearly the loss to Norhtwestern was disappointing but the wins over Louisville and Wisconsin  more than make up the one we dropped on the road.  Through two-thirds of the season we are sitting at 17-3.  Barring a collosal collapse we are a lock to make the NCAA Tounament for only the second time in a decade.  But as we learned in football the final portion of the schedule can have a significant impact on the season in totality.  Let's take a look at the remaining schedule and see how things may  play out. 

If you are a current member of the Gopher basketball team please stop reading, you are not allowed to look ahead (I'm talking to you Travis "What Else" Busch).  Looking ahead and separating the certain wins from the tough games is the right of  fan but when teams or players take part in such an endeavor they will certainly underachieve and ruin the lives of passionate fans all over the North Star state. Sampson_and_carter_medium

Remianing schedule with some games as certain wins/losses...

  • Illinois
  • @ Michigan State - LOSS
  • @ Ohio State
  • Indiana - WIN
  • @ Penn State
  • @ Michigan
  • Northwestern - WIN
  • @ Illinois - LOSS
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan - WIN

Among the 10 remaining games I am going to declare just three locks for wins and two very likely losses.  Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan at home should all be wins.  Clearly we could drop one with a horrendous night or a Manny Harris 35 point performance but the smart money is on these being wins at The Barn.  I'm also going to declare @ Michigan State and @ Illinois as certain losses. The Spartans dominated us at home and I don't expect anything different in East Lansing.  And don't even try to convince yourself that Illinois is beatable in Champaign, the last time we won down there was 1978.  Is it possible to win either of these?  Absolutely.  We will play competitively and may pull out an big upset but I'm not going to hold my breath.

This puts us at 20-5 with five remaining games that require some commentary.  All five are winable but on their own all five are losable as well.  Listed below in order of likely wins...

  • @ Penn State - we dominated the Nittany Lions at home in what was one of our most complete games of the season.  We did win by 20, but it took 62.5 FG% to win by that margin.  It is on the road but we get an extra day's rest (we play Tue, they play Wed prior to this Sat game) and our preceeding game is Indiana at home while theirs is @ Purdue.  It won't be easy but I'm feeling OK about this one.
  • Wisconsin - I can hardly believe I'm putting this as the second most likely win but the Badgers are struggling and do not appear to be a top 4 team in the conference.  This is a home game and a chance to sweep the Badgers for the first time since the 1993-94 season. In our favor is the time off factor again.  This is a Tuesday night game.  Wisconsin plays the Sunday before giving them just one day off in between while our preceding game is on Thursday which is ample time to prepare for the Badgers.
  • @ Michigan - Manny Harris is really good and concerns me but his ppg average is steadily declining as the season wears on.  This trend is kind of meaningless because during any one game he can go off for 25+, but it does demonstrate that he is coming back to reality.  Michigan has four conference wins but three of them were Iowa, NU and @ Ind.  This is winable and worthy of being ahead of Wisconsin.
  • Nolen_medium@ Ohio State - 2-4 agaisnt Big Ten teams this month, Ohio State is not as good as anticipated when the season began.  They are athletic and have some very good young players who are dangerous but I like the way we play defense.  I think they'll be a hot team heading into the Big Ten Tournament but the fact that we play then in early Feb is probably good for us. 
  • Illinois - I'm starting to believe that Illinois will finish second or third in the conference.  At home we have a chance but they seem to be playing well lately and their only mis-step on the season was a 10 point loss at Michigan.  This game is kind of a mystery to me but recent history suggests it will be difficult to win.  

Overall I'm going to say worst case we finish the season 4-6, giving us 21 wins.  That would likely mean we need a B10 Tourney win to get into the NCAA Tourney.  22 wins with a win at Madison and over L'ville should be enough.  The kind of defense we play would make it hard to imagine losing more than 6 of the remaining 10.

Best case would be 7-3.  24 regular season wins, 12-6 in Big Ten would be pushing for a 4 seed in the Big Dance, depending on B10 Tourney results. 

What do you guys think?  What valuable piece of info am I missing here?  Who do we beat in the remaining 10 games?