Minnesota's game vs. Rutgers at Williams Arena today tips at 11 a.m. Watch it on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-AM.
Five things to watch as the Gophers try to avoid matching an 0-6 league start from ten years ago:
Don't look now, but is Rutgers maybe kind of not bad? The Scarlet Knights hosted No. 8 Wisconsin -- who is otherwise unbeaten in conference play -- this week and took the unequivocal league favorite -- down. Just a fluke, right, even without Frank Kaminsky in the lineup? Not so fast. Straight off that victory, Rutgers barreled into College Park and scared the No. 14 Terrapins with a late second-half lead. Maybe these Knights are starting to learn something about success? What's more, Rutgers hasn't lost two in a row all season ... and the Knights are coming off a loss.
Nate again. Last time out, coach Richard Pitino flipped over the starting lineup gratuitously -- replacing DeAndre Mathieu, Carlos Morris and Mo Walker with Nate Mason, Charles Buggs and Elliott Eliason. The Gophers should get mostly back to normal on Saturday, but expect freshman wizard Mason to stay in the starting five, over struggling senior Mathieu. In experiment No. 1, Mason scored 17 points, had four rebounds, four assists, zero turnovers and three steals. Not bad.
Freebies. What coach likes to spend time on the very, very basics like boxing out and shooting free throws in the middle of January? Probably not any of them, at least at this level. But that's exactly what Pitino is being forced to do with the Gophers shooting 64.7 percent front the stripe in conference play -- second worst among Big Ten teams. The problem was only highlighted against Iowa, when both Mason and Eliason missed the front ends of a pair of 1-and-1s. Starting Thursday, Pitino had every player shooting less than 70 percent staying after and putting up extras. We'll see if the extra time worked.
Joey, shoot! Power forward Joey King is shooting 38.9 percent from three-point range and it's kind of his specialty, so when he twice hesitated to shoot after shot-faking and getting open late in the Ohio State game -- the last of those resulting in a costly turnover -- Pitino sat him down. "I told him to shoot the ball -- that's what you're good at," he said. "When he's by the bench and he catches it I yell 'Shoot it' because he's shot faking and nothing's happening. Everyone is just flying all over the place and nothing is ever really happening from it." King has been better in the last two games but the Gophers need him to stay trigger happy to maintain his worth on the floor.
Forget luck. Yes, it probably has seemed as though the ball, the officials -- with the exception of the one that accidentally triggered the clock vs Iowa -- and the basketball gods hate Minnesota a little bit right now. But that kind of mentality, the one that had Minnesota stunned and teary-eyed in the locker room after that Iowa loss, probably is counterproductive to actually getting better. Which the Gophers clearly need to do if they're going to salvage this season. "The tendency is to feel sorry for yourselves and forget about improving on what is causing you to lose," Pitino said. "We're close but we've got to keep plugging along obviously."