Indianapolis - The Gophers had to come into the Big Ten tournament with a chip.

Make things personal.

Their theme: respect.

They don't think they've earned enough this season.

The Damian Johnson snub. Tubby Smith's coaching ability/style questioned. Criticism following losses to Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan.

Illinois is considered a lock by many after the Wisconsin win Friday, while the Gophers probably need one or two wins to earn the same status. Never mind the similarity between the two teams' resumes.

In reality, respect is earned. And the Gophers haven't been consistent this season, a major obstacle in their mission to earn more street cred.

But if they think they deserve more respect and that translates into another explosive effort against Michigan State, so be it. They needed some kind of theme entering this tournament. And they've found one.

They've never beaten Michigan State under Smith.

I think that will change Friday night.

The Gophers' edge and execution were impressive during their victory over Penn State Thursday.

But their second-half poise, instead of panic, was a difference-maker. Led to a blowout.

They didn't look nervous. They looked determined.

The Spartans don't have Chris Allen. And even when they had him, they struggled against the Gophers in two previous games.

Michigan State is a lock for the NCAA tournament and it doesn't have a shot at a No. 1 seed. So what are they playing for? 

We know what's on the line for the Gophers. Another win or two could guarantee an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

I entered the conference tourney thinking they'd have to win it all to get a berth. Then, bubble teams around the country started to stumble.

The Gophers will be in a good spot with a victory. Another win Saturday night would make them a lock, in my opinion.

That motivation plus their impressive defensive pressure makes me think that they'll pull off the upset and give one of their best efforts of the year.

They're playing like they have something to prove. And they'll earn more than their share of respect if they win.

Prediction: Minnesota 61, Michigan State 58



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