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Men’s basketball preview: Gophers kick off Big Ten Tournament against Northwestern

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Will this be the last game of the Richard Pitino era?

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Not long now, folks. The Gophers nearly knocked off Rutgers at home in what would have been a thrilling regular season finale and, frankly, an unexpected late-season victory, but they couldn’t quite complete the comeback. Instead it was the team’s seventh straight loss and 10th in the last 12 games to end the season.

With the collapse, Minnesota finds itself in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament for the third time in four years and squaring off against Northwestern. Ordinarily the Gophers would be favored in a matchup against the lowly Wildcats, but without Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur again, it’s clear that Minnesota has no business beating anyone in the conference at this point.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and one that you wish had gone the opposite way. But at this point it’s hard seeing the season end any other way that with a whimper in the conference tournament. Hey, at least it’s not a true road game! A loss means the end of the season and almost assuredly the end of the Richard Pitino era. A win means another game on Thursday against Ohio State.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Northwestern Wildcats (9-14, 6-13)

Date and Time:

Wednesday, March 10 @ 5:30 p.m. CT

Location:

Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, IN)

TV:

BTN

Radio:

KTLK 103.5-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Don’t look now, but the Northwestern Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak. After losing 13 straight they stemmed the bleeding with a win over Minnesota and haven’t looked back, having knocked off Maryland and squeaking by Nebraska.

To be clear, Northwestern is still not a very good team, though Boo Buie and Chase Audige have turned it on lately. Buie scored 25 against Minnesota and he’s been in double figures for four straight games after not cracking that threshold in the previous five.

Minnesota still matches up well with the Wildcats and jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first meeting when Northwestern was shooting abysmally. They still aren’t a great offensive team, meaning the Gophers may have a window if they can score with any sort of consistency.

Predictions

If there is any team to break a losing streak against its probably Northwestern. Almost beating Rutgers was a step in the right direction, so it’s probably a matter of how much this team has packed it in for the season versus if they actually want to bear down and win a game. It will be difficult without Robbins and Kalscheur, but the Wildcats are also a team that give opponents a ton of margin for error.

Will they win one for the Gipper? I think they string us along for one more game.

Minnesota 75 | Northwestern 70