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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Rutgers

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With dismal February, Gophers now in true must-win mode

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I’d like to say I’m surprised that the Gophers find themselves in the unenviable position of having multiple “must-win” scenarios this late in the season, but that would be a lie. We knew full well heading into the season that the February portion of the schedule would be a bear, and that Minnesota would be challenged to notch wins against some of the best teams in the conference. But I didn’t think it would be this dire.

Unfortunately, while the Gophers have suffered losses they shouldn’t have, they haven’t picked up any victories they shouldn’t have. And you need the counterbalance of, say, beating Nebraska on the road when you’re losing at home to Michigan. And that hasn’t happened.

So now what? Minnesota needs at least two victories in the final four games of the season to be in decent shape for an at-large bid. The two most winnable games are on the road, where the team has been laughably bad, though they come against two of the conference’s worst teams in Rutgers and Northwestern. The other two are against Purdue (home) and Maryland (road), which are hardly winnable games.

So, if we’re being reductionist, Minnesota is in a must-win situation against Rutgers tonight and against Northwestern on Thursday. They still control their own destiny, but the margin for error is now close to zero. Time to put up or shut up.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-11, 12-14)

What time are they playing?

Sunday, Feb. 24 @ 5:30 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Louis Brown Athletic Center (Piscataway, NJ)

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KTLK 1130-AM/103.5-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Is Rutgers having a renaissance season? In a word, yes they are. They’re having the best season they’ve had since joining the Big Ten, and have already won more conference games since they won six in the Big East in 2012. And while those five wins are nothing to write home about they’ve been a tough out at home.

But make no bones about it, Rutgers is not a good team. They’ve lost eight games this year by double digits and have one of the worst offenses in the conference. They had a decent January but, like the Gophers, have fallen off a cliff in February, going 1-5 in their last six games.

One of two double-figure scorers for the Knights, Eugene Omoruyi leads the offense with 13.6 points per game and also averages a team-high 7.6 rebounds. Geo Baker is second on the team in scoring and is second in the Big Ten in steals, averaging 1.7 per game. Omoruyi was injured in the previous game against the Gophers, but has been tough on the glass in recent games.

Rutgers has been hanging its hat on defense this year though, and rank #44 in KenPom with good defense inside the three-point line, though they’ve been terrible with three-point defense. Their biggest problem has been scoring, as they have the worst scoring differential in the conference.

Predictions

Here we are. A must-win game on the road against Rutgers. How fittingly Minnesota Sports. The game is there for the taking if the Gophers want it. They theoretically should be able to shut down the Rutgers offense, which has scored more than 70 points just once in its past eight games, but will need to score the ball themselves and be competent from the three-point line.

I’m taking the Gophers, because I think they’ll finally wake up, but for a team that has shown very little spine the past three weeks it’s a shaky confidence. Win or go home.