The Gophers had one of the most brutal opening Big Ten schedules. Ever. Honestly I felt that they would have been lucky to come through those first 8 conference games with 2 wins. And then they went and won half of them. Beating two teams in the top 10. Color me impressed.
Now we get to the “easier” portion of the schedule. The part where we play a bunch of teams that are not ranked. Awesome, right?
First up? A road game at Nebraska, the worst team in the Big Ten. That game was Covid-cancelled. Technically it was postponed, but Nebraska had to miss several games, so I’m not counting on that one being made up.
Next? Unranked Maryland at home. We have been unstoppable at home, this one is a win, right? WRONG. Maryland came to the Barn and made it absolutely impossible to score. The Gophers ended the game with 49 points and a double-digit loss at home.
Now we head to West Lafayette on Saturday for a road game against an unranked opponent. This is an unusual event for the 2020-21 Gophers. But we now hit the portion of the schedule when they can either reinforce the good that was done with their 4-4 start, or they can squander the work that they’ve done to earn a top-25 ranking and holding a position well above the bubble fray.
The ugly loss to Maryland was mostly likely the worst 40 min of basketball they have played all year. And it came at a time when they were back at home and had a chance to solidify themselves as one of the top teams in the conference.
So that loss is behind us and we look ahead to what is left of the season. But the lesson that has to be learned is that, just showing up is never going to cut it in the Big Ten. Beating Iowa and Michigan at home is great, but just because you’re now favored over a team at home doesn’t mean you are going to win by walking on the floor.
With that in mind, lets look ahead. The Gophers have 10 games remaining, 5 at home and 5 on the road. With the potential to add back the Covid-cancelled game at Nebraska, but for now we will assume that one isn’t happening.
I think that it is good to look at these as the next 6 and the last 4.
The Next 6 Games
This is a stretch of 4 road games with just 2 at home. Considering how poorly this team has played on the road, coupled with their recent Maryalnd loss, this stretch is really critical.
- @Purdue - The Boilermakers started the Big Ten with a bunch of road games, now finishing the last half with a number of games at home. This team could finish very strong.
- @Rutgers - Currently on a 1-5 run in their last 6 games after such a strong start. Very winable games coming up to regain some confidence before the Gophers come to town.
- Nebraska - This one just has to be a win.
- Purdue - back at home, this game is another dangerous one...kind of like the Maryland game.
- @Maryland - Maryland absolutely locked down the Gophers in the Barn and this rematch on the road is going to be really interesting.
- @Indiana - So far has been very clear-cut in that they beat teams outside of the KenPom top 40 and lose to teams 40 or better. This one is key.
Much like their initial 8-game Big Ten stretch was expected to be, this one might not be pretty. And the Gophers may come out of this with just 2 or 3 wins. Nebraska is a lock (or it really should be). The remaining 5 games are all very interesting. Beating Purdue at home is no sure thing, but if they get that win they really only need to win 1 of the 4 road games to come out of this with a 3-3 record. Lose to Purdue and you have to split on the road, which as of right now seems like a tall order.
I think 3-3 is reasonable in this stretch. Which means the Gophers sit at 7-8 for the final 4 games.can
The Last 4 Games
Now we get some beatable teams and 3 games at home.
- Illinois - not a great matchup for the Gophers, but we have beat some really good teams at home. Why not also Illinois?
- Northwestern - at home, this has to be another win.
- @Penn State - if any team is going to give Nebraska a run for worst team in the conference, it is Penn State. Easily our most winable road game.
- Rutgers - I’ve waffled on how good I thin Rutgers is this year. They play physical defense, similar to how Maryland defended us last weekend. This one makes me nervous, but should be a win.
Can we get out of this with a 3-1 record? I think so. For 10-9 in the Big Ten (let’s assume it would have been 11-9 for apples-to-apples comparison to other 20-game conference schedules). And really, 10-9 is a pretty good record. Especially when you consider that you were extremely unlucky to only get 1 game each against the 3 worst teams in the conference. Anybody else only get Nebraska, Penn St and Northwestern once each? And still finished with a winning record?
This is really not intended to be a prediction piece. Bucketing these next 10 games is helpful for me to manage expectations for there this team is going or may end up. These next 6 are not easy. This isn’t the same as managing the early part of the schedule, but the number of road games makes it a challenge.
But as stated before, you have to do more than show up to win this year’s Big Ten. Can they get to 10 conference wins? I think that is very doable.