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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Northwestern

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With margin for error erased, Gophers desperately need a win in Evanston

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Northwestern Nuccio DiNuzzo-USA TODAY Sports

In a put-up or shut-up game against Rutgers on Sunday, the Gophers got shut up. And in a season where more seems to have gone wrong than right for Richard Pitino, Minnesota now finds itself with an uncertain postseason future and a season that is most certainly on the brink.

While the loss may appear more glaring to those of us who could barely fathom a loss to Rutgers, the numbers may suggest otherwise, and the Gophers are far from having their NCAA Tournament dreams completely dashed. What do I mean? To put it bluntly, a road loss to Rutgers, while painful, may not be the death knell we all assumed it was. In fact, the NCAA still has the Gophers as an 11-seed in their most recent bracket projections. Who woulda thought?

However, the margin for error is now completely gone for a team that has lost six of its last seven games. A loss at Northwestern would almost certainly require victories over Purdue and Maryland down the stretch in addition to a first round B1G Tournament victory. And is a team that loses to Rutgers and Northwestern capable to finishing that strong? All that matters now is a win over a team in a venue they’ve traditionally played pretty poorly in.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Northwestern Wildcats (3-13, 12-15)

What time are they playing?

Thursday, Feb. 28 @ 8 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, Ill.)

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPN2.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

It hasn’t been a good season for the Wildcats. They’ve racked up a measly three wins in the Big Ten, which have come against the likes of Illinois, Indiana and Rutgers. They have lost their past eight games (and eight of ten), while dropping their past three home games. They have one of the worst eFG% in the nation, and their shooting percentage from the field is blinking red. Not a pretty sight.

However, they are still Northwestern and they still play in Welsh-Ryan Arena, where the Gophers are sure to have 1-3-1 flashbacks from the Tubby years. Defense is what has kept them in games this season. The Wildcats are one of the stingiest defenses for 3-point shots, as NU ranks 10th in the country and first in the Big Ten in limiting opponents to 29.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Seniors Vic Law and Derek Pardon (have these guys been there for seven years?) lead the Wildcats in every major stat category. Law is the team’s leader in scoring (15.6), assists (3.0) and steals (1.1), while Pardon leads in rebounds (7.6) and blocks (1.0).

Predictions

Here we are again. Another winnable game in a must-win situation on the road against one of the conference’s worst teams. The story almost writes itself, doesn’t it? If you care to remember, Rutgers was another team that had a so-so offense and a stingy defense. That didn’t work out so well for the Gophers, who had trouble scoring in a game they desperately needed.

If you’re confident in Minnesota in this one, I want whatever you’re drinking.