I feel like I'm recycling old posts, but the Gophers (12-7, 3-4 Big Ten) are in a must-win situation against Northwestern (14-5, 3-5 Big Ten) at Williams Arena Tuesday night.

But this must-win is different than the one they encountered Saturday against Michigan State.

That loss was Minnesota's best opportunity to score a huge quality win that could've anchored their NCAA tournament resume and revived their shot at the Big Dance. But the Spartans have beaten a lot of teams, so it's not that the Gophers will get punished for the loss, but they might be kicking themselves at the end of the year because of what they could've had with a little more discipline down the stretch Saturday.

The Gophers are playing a good Northwestern team. But the Wildcats are stuck in the same pool of Big Ten mediocrity that the Gophers have been swimming in all season. They can't lose to another 3-4 team at home.

Northwestern might make a push and end the season strong. So Tuesday night's matchup could weigh a lot more in March. But if the Wildcats continue their up-and-down ways, there's also chance that it could really hurt the Gophers if they lose.

Minnesota faces Ohio State and Penn State on the road in their next two games. Ohio State's a different ball club compared the one that the Gophers defeated earlier this month. And it's hard to come away with a win in Columbus.

Under Tubby Smith, the Gophers have struggled in State College, Pa. They barely pulled out a victory in Smith's first year. And last season, Penn State dominated Minnesota. I know the Nittany Lions aren't playing very well right now, but there are no guarantees on the road, especially for a team that lost at Indiana.

Their three opponents after that ... Michigan (home, bad matchup, swept the Gophers a year ago), Northwestern (road, 10-3 so far in Evanston, beat the Gophers there last year) and Wisconsin (home, rivalry game, tough Badgers squad).

The Gophers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak. But they're running out of opportunities to right the ship.

I think Devoe Joseph gives the Gophers an offensive edge. But Al Nolen's ballhandling ability really helped the Gophers against Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone in past matchups.

The Wildcats will give the Gophers a test. Might be a tougher game than Saturday's because Northwestern's not cocky or talented enough to think that it can wait until late in the second half to make a run. This should be a 40-minute war. Both squads have a lot to fight for.

Prediction: Gophers 64, Northwestern 63

-After Monday's practice, senior co-captain Damian Johnson said he's excited to see the New Orleans Saints earn a trip to the Super Bowl. The Louisiana native said he's a diehard fan, citing the franchise's "brown paper bag" days. Johnson watched the game with Vikings fan and teammate Rodney Williams Jr. He said they started arguing about Favre's potential toward the end of the contest.

"Me and Rodney Williams was getting into heated arguments over the game," Johnson said. "He says Brett Favre with the ball with two minutes is a guaranteed win for the Vikings. It just got a little ... I'll just keep it G-rated ... and it got real violent." 

Johnson said he's cool with Williams now.

My two cents: Throw it away, give Longwell a chance to hit the field goal.

-Smith on Vikings' loss: "It's a depressing day. Tough loss. I'm excited for Damian, too, in a sense."

-Smith said fatigue really affected the Gophers against Michigan State Saturday. It was easy to see that the Gophers were fading. Smith's rotation doesn't require guys to play 35-plus minutes the way they did against the Spartans.

But with Nolen out, they'll have to get used to it. The Gophers don't have any players among the Big Ten's top-15 leaders for minutes played.

-Will Royce White play this season? "I have no comment about that," Smith said after Monday's practice. "It's one of those things, where, we'll see how it goes. He's still a got a lot, lot to do."


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The Gophers need a win against Michigan State Saturday

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