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Gophers host #4 Iowa in Christmas special

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Minnesota seeks first conference win against conference’s best team

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

Believe it or not, the Minnesota win over Saint Louis on Sunday was actually a major win. The Billikens came into the game due to be ranked in the AP Top 25 with a win, and was within KenPom’s top 30 teams in the nation. What’s more, SLU was etched in to Lunardi’s Bracketology as an 8-seed, projecting them as a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

That’s a long way of saying that even though they didn’t have the name recognition of, say, a Syracuse (a team with a similar profile) Saint Louis was a resume-building win for the Gophers.

It was a refreshing victory for Minnesota, who got stomped by Illinois in their biggest test of the season, leaving the fan base to wonder if this was yet another Richard Pitino team that would stomp lower level competition only to fall flat against better equipped teams. That may well be true, however, but at the very least a win over Saint Louis proves that Minnesota can gather themselves to beat a good team this year.

The blitz of a schedule continues on Friday, though, in a special Christmas edition game against Iowa. As you well know, Iowa is no joke, with national POTY candidate Luka Garza destroying opponents and the Hawkeyes coming into the game ranked fourth nationally. An intriguing follow-up to a big win over SLU, Minnesota will have its hands full as it tries to notch its first conference win of the season.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1, 1-0)

Date and Time:

Friday, Dec. 25 @ 7 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KTLK 103.5-FM/1130-AM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Iowa comes into the game sporting the most efficient offense in the nation according to KenPom. They made quick work of a good Purdue team on Tuesday, beating the Boilermakers by 15 points, and have also notched wins against North Carolina and Iowa State. Their lone miss was against Gonzaga, a team you may have heard of.

Luka Garza leads the way, and the senior forward was named to the AP Preseason All America Team and was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. He’s lived up to the billing, averaging 28.4 ppg and 9.1 rpg so far this year. He’s been unstoppable.

Joe Wieskamp is the number two. The junior guard is averaging 16 ppg while pulling down an intriguing 6.6 rebounds per game.

All-American Luka Garza returns for his senior year and was named to the AP Preseason All America Team and the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year. He averages 28.4 points per game this season, a nation’s best. Following him is Joe Wieskamp, who averages 16.0 points per game.

Iowa’s offense is fantastic. They score in droves, they don’t turn the ball over and they grab a ton of offensive rebounds, something that has astounded Minnesota this year. The Gophers have actually been okay at scoring this year, and they’ve been great at getting to the line, but if they can gather some of their own misses and make good on second chance points they’ll have a chance to hang with the Hawkeyes.

Predictions

On paper this is a huge mismatch and Iowa will almost certainly win. However, Vegas only has this as a 7-point spread, which is closer than I would have thought. Will Liam Robbins have an impact on Luka Garza? He’s been good when he’s on the court but Robbins has faced foul trouble all year. If he can minimize his mistakes he could quell Garza, at least somewhat. And just the fact that Minnesota gives themselves an X-factor in Marcus Carr every night brings their floor up. I’ll be interested to see how they shoot, given the polarization of the Illinois and SLU games.

It’s crazy to pick the Gophers, but I think they make this closer than people think. I’m taking the Hawkeyes by 7.