Tonight's game vs. Ohio State tips at 5 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-am.
Check out my Opening Tip from this morning, with links from today's paper. My national story this week is about the early success Tubby Smith is finding at Texas Tech. Plus, notes from around college basketball, and this week's Big Ten power poll.
Remember the Gophers' big win over the Buckeyes at Williams in mid January? It feels like another season ago.
But now, after the worst loss of the year -- one that made Minnesota's NCAA tournament chances considerably dimmer -- the Gophers are hoping they can find some of that magic again.
What the Gophers need more than anything is a spark to put the Illinois loss behind them. Coach Richard Pitino didn't even make the team sit through film of the game the next day. That's how bad it was.
"If I could burn it, I would have," he said. "But we don't really have tapes anymore, so you're not going to burn a computer. That wouldn't be too fiscally responsible."
The Gophers haven't swept Ohio State since the 2004-05 season, but they showed a month ago they are capable of pushing the Buckeyes around (albeit a version that was simply not playing well at the time). Last time around, Minnesota held OSU to 35.3 percent shooting from the field, got good inside play from Elliott Eliason -- who has since been slumping -- and DeAndre Mathieu had a solid outing and helped to keep Aaron Craft off-kilter. LaQuinton Ross had a big game -- finishing with 22 points and five rebounds -- and still that wasn't enough to give OSU the boost it needed.
But in order for the Gophers to author a repeat performance, they've got to score better than they have been lately, particularly against Illinois, when Minnesota couldn't hit a three-pointer if it was necessary to save the lives of all the players. They need to find balance again between the perimeter attack and that in the paint. The Gophers have shown they can be extremely successful when they establish the latter, but against Illinois, they got lazy in that respect.
The Gophers have an opportunity over the next three games to play themselves back into the NCAA tournament. That starts tonight.
"The beauty of this league is we get to play three top-25 teams in a row again," Pitino said.
A few other notes:
*Pitino, on the team's sloppiness against Illinois. "It was a comedy of errors. Going over the line twice on inbounds. We've never done that, I don't get that. We just did a lot of silly things ... It was as odd as I've ever seen. Andre Hollins like fell down a couple of times, had to dive to save the ball on the sidelines. Nobody was guarding him. It was so strange. Mo's pass on the baseline ... It was just one of those days. We were just crazy."
*Pitino said the team has embraced the underdog mentality this season (they've probably played better in those situations than when they're favored, really), and he said he planned to push that theme leading up to tonight. "I'm guessing there's not a lot of people picking us to beat Ohio State on the road," he said. "Maybe I'm wrong. I'm going to make our guys believe that though, that's for sure."
*Andre Hollins on the team's final stretch. "I think it's great to have these games at the end of the season. It's crunch time, and these are three NCAA tournament teams. What more can you ask for except to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year, before it's time for people to make decisions on if you're going to play in postseason and which postseason you're going to play in."
*Malik Smith went 0-for-7 from the field on Wednesday and is shooting just 26.3 percent overall in the last six. "Its very obvious he's pressing offensively," Pitino said. "You've got to point out when he takes bad shots and tell him that that's a low-percentage shot. When he's taking the good ones, you tell him to keep shooting."