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Minnesota Basketball: Looking ahead to the Big Ten for Gopher hoops

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A daunting schedule lies ahead for Gopher basketball

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten is incredibly tough. This is not a conclusion I have come to after some deep analysis, anyone who is a fan of college basketball knows this. It has been a deep and talented league for a few years now, but this year feels like it is the Big Ten on steroids.

In other years, the Big Ten has felt like a league that could land 4 or 5 teams in the Sweet 16 with maybe 1 team who would sneak into the Final Four. This year feels like a league that very easily could account for half of the Final Four. Michigan State won at Duke. Illinois lost to Baylor early but then won at Duke by 15. Iowa is decimating everyone, including North Carolina. And does anybody think that Wisconsin couldn’t make a run to the Final Four (God help us). Don’t forget that Michigan and Ohio State are currently ranked in the top 15 in efficiency rankings.

Not only is the league stacked at the top, but it is incredibly deep. Rutgers is a very tough and dangerous team, Indiana is very talented and you know that Purdue and Maryland are down but only slightly.

All in all you have 7 teams ranked in the top 21 in terms of efficiency. 10 teams in the top 40. And then you have Minnesota, currently at 43.

So what does this mean for the Gophers?

Well, that’s really what I wanted to talk about today. I want to adequate warning about the first month of the Big Ten season. Our schedule is heavily front-loaded. It is going to be a rough 4 weeks.

But take heart, the back half is easier. (still noting that nothing is easy in this league).

The KenPom projections have the Gophers finishing with a 9-11 record in the Big Ten. That, likely would earn them a spot in the NCAA Tournament, or very close. The hard part is that these are their first 8 games.

  • @Illinois - ranked 16 in KemPom
  • Iowa - 4
  • Michigan St - 20
  • @Wisconsin - 7
  • Ohio St - 21
  • @Michigan - 14
  • @Iowa - 4
  • Michigan - 14

When it looks like maybe the easiest game in the first 8 is Michigan State...that’s saying something. Frankly, we very well may be facing the teams that will finish in the top 5 of the conference standings over the next 8 games.

After watching this Gopher team through six games, I have not seen nearly enough to give me confidence the the current squad is going to come out of those first 8 games with a winning record. In fact the conference record might be ugly. Is 0-8 a possibility? It is.

But the good news is that after the first 8 games, 10 of the remaining 12 are all much more winable. Really they are all within a small enough margin that they could go either way.

Tactically, any game that the Gophers can snag between now and the middle of January is going to be huge. If they manage to go 2-6, that might appear to be a disastrous start, but really they might still be in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid. Three wins? And things are looking up.

Then we get to the next 12 and this is when the Gophers will have to separate themselves, if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. They’ll be right in the mix with the likes of Rutgers, Purdue, Penn St and Maryland at this point and with 6 games against those teams, they’ll have a chance to earn their bid.

So, don’t freak out if the record is pretty bad after the first 8 games. They may not recover and frankly they may not be good enough to compete with the rest of the Big Ten anyway. But it also might not be the death of this team’s post-season hopes. It may also not be the nail in the coffin for Richard Pitino. This team is still coming together and finding an identity. It is a very different team than a year ago and they really didn’t have a regular offseason to figure things out.

Pitino has his work cut out for him to keep them working on the right things and get them to improve throughout the season.

We will really start to see what this team is made of starting January 20th when they go to Nebraska and finish out the regular season against teams in the 30-70 range as opposed to all top 25 teams.