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Gophers enter “must-win” portion of the season

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Opportunities dwindling as Minnesota enters February

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are. February. Where postseason hopes are both made and dashed. By the calculations of most pundits the Gophers are solidly on the bubble, which means to this point in the season they’ve done just enough to be considered for the final field of the NCAA Tournament.

But it also means that they have some work to do.

The good news? The rest of the Big Ten season is flush with opportunities to make a statement. Wisconsin (x2), Penn State, Iowa, Indiana (x2), and Maryland are still on the schedule, which gives Minnesota at least eight chances to pull off some big time victories. Remaining games against Northwestern and Nebraska are “should win”. And if you’re of the mind that the Gophers need 10 conference wins to get back on the ride side of the bubble, that means they need to pick up three or four big-time wins down the stretch. Again, the opportunities are there.

The bad news? The Gophers now seem to be reeling a bit. They’ve looked downright bad in losses to Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois teams who are really good, but hardly great enough to dominate Minnesota. Right now the Gophers aren’t looking like a team that can finish strong.

But the college basketball season is definitely one of waves. They looked pretty good for much of January, racking up wins against Michigan, Penn State and on the road at Ohio State. These are not bad teams, so you know the potential is there.

The first test comes tonight against Wisconsin, which is looking more and more like a must-win game. If the Gophers lose, that puts them at 5-7 in the conference, and forces them to basically sweep their remaining home games and beat Northwestern on the road. That’s a lot to ask. Not impossible, but difficult. A win over the Badgers gives them another Quad 1 victory for their resume and keeps them in control of their destiny.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Wisconsin Badgers (6-5, 13-9)

Date and Time:

Wednesday, Feb. 5 @ 8 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Wisconsin is fine. They’re coming off an impressive win at home over Michigan State where they somehow blew an 18-point lead and still hung on thanks to Xavier Tillman being incapable of converting a few layups. It’s more notable because they were missing Kobe King and their Keebler Elf who was serving a one-game suspension because he can’t stop jabbing opponents in the nuts.

The latter is back tonight, but the former is long gone, because he’s left the team. How does that change the dynamic of the Badgers? Well, they’re 1-0 without him, so who really knows. He was their second-leading scorer so it’s not like you can just fill that hole. Aleem Ford did a good job of that in the MSU game, racking up a season high in minutes.

That’s a long way of saying that their previous game might serve as an anomaly. Was it an emotional come up after a week of turmoil for the basketball program? Maybe. I’ll be very curious to see how they perform in the second game on the road in front of an extremely hostile crowd.

Either way, the Badgers are once again extremely overrated and benefit from a ton of home cooking at the Kohl Center.

Predictions

This will come down to a simple thing: will the Gophers be able to shoot? If the answer is yes, they’ll win. If not, they’ll probably lose. They aren’t going to beat many teams by shooting around 30% from the field.

By the sheer law of averages I think the Gophers make a few more buckets than the past two weeks and take this one by 4.