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Men’s basketball preview: Gophers host Northwestern in veritable must-win game

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At home against a team on a 13-game losing streak. What could go wrong?

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

As if you couldn’t see it coming many months ago, here we are — a must-win situation to keep the NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Gophers have done a textbook job fumbling away what was a promising season, one that saw them ranked in the top-20 in the country, before collapsing into a black hole that now has them desperately hanging on in the bubble.

The good news? They are still IN according to many pundits, but just barely. As in, the last team in. The final stretch of the season is favorable, however, with Minnesota facing the dregs of the conference in Northwestern and Nebraska, before heading on the road to take on a beatable Penn State team and concluding with a home tilt against a similarly vulnerable Rutgers team. Can the Gophers still get in losing tonight and winning their final three games? Potentially, but it gets much harder, and you’re leaving destiny to chance.

The wins are there, and the Gophers still control their own destiny, but with Gabe Kalscheur out with a broken finger and Liam Robbins limping with a bum ankle, Minnesota is now forced to dig deep and make something happen.

Tonight’s game against Northwestern is a must-win in the sense that if they take a home loss to a bad team there may not be enough juice left in their final three games to get them back on the right side of the bubble.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Northwestern Wildcats (7-16, 3-13)

Date and Time:

Thursday, Feb. 25 @ 8 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Northwestern tried to fool everyone early this year by running out to a 6-1 record with wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State, pushing them to #19 in the country and causing everyone to wonder if this Wildcat team had indeed flown under the radar this entire time. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and since that victory over OSU Northwestern has rattled off 13 straight losses, falling to 3-13 in the conference.

It’s important to note that Northwestern has technically played the hardest scheduled in the nation, according to KenPom. The hardest! They’ve kept some games close (2OT loss to Indiana, three-point loss to PSU), but they’ve lost by 10 or more eight times during the losing streak. Not good!

The Wildcats are not a very big team, and their rebounding numbers show it. They also don’t force opponents into many turnovers, though they do a pretty good job of taking care of the ball.

Promising for the Gophers, Northwestern allows teams to get to the free throw line a ton, where Minnesota has actually done some damage this year.

Sophomore guard Chase Audige leads the way in scoring, averaging 13 ppg, while junior forward Miller Kopp checks in with 11.7 ppg. Kopp, however, has been held to seven points or less in the last five games.

Predictions

The Gophers haven’t faced a “bad” team since they ripped Nebraska, but now they are down their best defender and their starting center can barely walk. If Robbins is in better shape things are looking more promising, as it seems like Minnesota matches up well with Northwestern. The biggest thing is defense, though, as the Gophers have been hemorhaging points without Kalscheur. Hopefully they can keep the Wildcats under 70.

The Gophers are reeling but I still think they take down NU.

Minnesota 74 | Northwestern 68