Indianapolis - The Gophers might need a Big Ten tournament title to secure an NCAA tourney berth. But various experts think they'll get in with three more victories. Some radicals have even thrown two-and-they're-in out there.

But let's step away from the bracketology for a moment and focus on the moment.

Against Penn State Thursday night, the Gophers will face a foe that excelled down the stretch of the regular season and gave them all they could handle in two tough games.

This season's field isn't great. So logic would suggest that the Gophers have a good chance to make a run.

There's reason, however, to doubt that possibility.

The Gophers are still trying to find themselves. Hate to use the guru-talk, but it's the truth.

At times this season, they've played like one of the better teams in America.

They handled a good Butler team. They topped Ohio State and Wisconsin at the Barn and Illinois on the road.

They were a play away from beating nationally ranked Texas A&M. Ditto for close losses to Michigan State and Purdue.

But their lowlights contrast all of the highs.

Stomped at Michigan. Exhausted at Northwestern. Unraveled at Miami. Unprepared vs. Portland. Procrastinated at Indiana.

So which Gophers team will show up at Conseco Fieldhouse in a few hours? 

The one that believes? Or the one that confuses?

The conference tournament is all about consistency. The teams that get into a rhythm beat that drum all the way to a title.

The others struggle.

My advice for the Gophers: Find an answer early.

If Blake Hoffarber is lighting up the room, feed him. If Devoe Joseph reaches an I-know-you-love-my-brother-Cory-but-don't-forget-about-me mode, let him go.

Maybe, they'll succeed inside. If the Twin Towers are tearing up the paint, go to them.

As much as teams like to talk about game plans and strategy, I don't think things are so complicated this time of year.

Adjust until something works, and when it does, go with it. Just ask Montana's Anthony Johnson. The teams that know who they are play well in these situations.

One of the Gophers' greatest issues this season, potentially their greatest issue in the conference tournament, has been their wavering confidence in who they are.

Are they a team that likes to throw the ball in the paint and let the Big Boys feast? Sometimes. Will they rely on the perimeter players? Maybe. Will they press right away, force turnovers and score in transition? It's a possibility.

My point is that the Gophers don't have a lot of time to figure things out in a single-elimination tourney that they might have to win to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Although the Nittany Lions have struggled this season, everybody in Indiana knows their strategy. Talor Battle left. Talor Battle right. Talor Battle up the middle.

Can't say the same thing about the Gophers right now. Their versatility really helped them this year. But versatility can quickly become ambiguity, depending on their level of success.

They need an identity.

Prediction: Minnesota 65, Penn State 64

Other Opening-Round Matchups: 

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Iowa-Don't sleep on the Wolverines. They don't have a ton of chemistry. And they've been as up and down as any team in the Big Ten, but they have one of the most talented duos in the league in DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris.

Prediction: Michigan 74, Iowa 59

No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Indiana-The Hoosiers were on their way to a better year before Maurice Creek went down with a knee injury in December. Their poor record hasn't stopped them from playing hard. I think they'll give the Indiana fans something to cheer about in the opening round: an upset.

Prediction: Indiana 77, Northwestern 73 (Overtime)




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