Here are five questions related to Tuesday's night's Indiana-Minnesota matchup:
Are the Gophers better without Devoe Joseph?
This team has proven that it can win without the junior combo guard (see Puerto Rico Tipoff). And they haven't been great since his return.
The Gophers are 3-2 this season when Joseph scores 10 or more. And he's struggled on defense.
But Joseph shoots 38.1 percent from beyond the arc and scores 11.3 points per game for a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten offense. Plus, he's a veteran who's played well in tough situations (see last season's Big Ten tourney).
I think freshmen Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi have the potential to offer greater contributions with more minutes. But they don't have Joseph's experience.
Losing Joseph, in my opinion, knocks this team down a notch in the Big Ten. But that drop might be temporary. They have time to regroup and build the chemistry necessary to win key games in conference play.
The loss, however, is a big one ... if he officially leaves the program.
How big is Tuesday's game?
The Gophers need a big victory over Indiana Tuesday for confidence reasons. They're 0-2 in Big Ten play and the Joseph situation is a midseason distraction. Matchups against Ohio State and Purdue follow their game against the Hoosiers. Any momentum that they can carry into those games will help.
Plus, they have to get used to playing without Joseph.
Why can't the Gophers bigs stay out of foul trouble?
The simple answer is that Minnesota's post players have made poor decisions and picked up fouls as a result. But there's more to the equation.
Minnesota's struggling perimeter defense puts more pressure on Ralph Sampson III, Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson (And Rodney Williams when he plays power forward). When perimeter guys can't get through screens, the bigs are expected to switch and defend outside shots in some situations. And when opposing wings penetrate and get past the same crew, the team's inside players have to step up and guard those players.
So the team's overall defensive struggles are forcing the inside guys to take more risks. Plus, they don't have the depth they desire due to Mo Walker's season-ending injury.
Still, they have to play smart.
Can the Gophers fight through this adversity?
They've done it before. Plus, they endured more last season. A young team might crumble with everything that's going on right now. But the Gophers have veterans who have seen a lot of things. I don't think they'll let one player disrupt their focus.
Why all the drama?
I don't think there's an easy answer. If a player wants to leave, who can stop him? But the program's rep has taken a hit nationally over the last few seasons with all of the drama. And seeing key players leave can't help recruiting.
If the problems persist and the Gophers struggle this season, Tubby Smith will have to answer more questions about the state of his program, especially with a multiyear extension on the table and a plan to build a $25 million practice facility in the works.
Prediction: Minnesota 65, Indiana 63 (I'm 12-2 this season)