Minnesota plays at Nebraska tonight at 7:30 p.m. CT. Watch on Big Ten Network or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Read: Can the Gophers, like last season's Nebraska, turn around a bad start and make the NCAA tournament? Minnesota is faced with a much different conference climate and isn't helped by its weak schedule.
Five keys to the Gophers starting a win streak vs. the Huskers:
Calling all shooters. Anyone who took a good look at Minnesota's second-half defense vs. Rutgers understands just how important it is for the Gophers' offense to get rolling. That, however, is not an easy assignment against Nebraska, owner of the tenth-ranked defensive efficiency in college basketball, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy's metrics. The Huskers limit good shots inside and out, and rank second in the league in three-point defense, holding opponents to just 29.1 percent of their attempts. But the Gophers have relied on the long ball to be competitive this season and need to continue to hit shots to keep their one post scorer (Mo Walker) from being doubled the whole time.
Forget history. The only thing standing between the Gophers and their brutal 0-5 slump to start the year is a win over a Rutgers team that was expected to man the league's basement this year. Plus, Minnesota still has won just two road games in coach Richard Pitino's tenure, a stat that is becoming more and more weighty with each road trip. The coach said in the last two games, the team was playing with the "weight of the world" on its shoulders. To move on and turn Saturday's win into a trend instead of an anomaly, the Gophers will need to let all of that go. Zero-and-six is egregious, but 1-5 isn't exactly uplifting either.
Pin Petteway. Have you heard the rumors about Nebraska star Terran Petteway struggling to live up to preseason expectations? Well that was some hype because although Petteway isn't a national player of the year candidate, he has improved his scoring (he's second in the Big Ten with 19.4 points per game), rebounding, assist and shooting percentages. He's still dangerous in the open court. He's still one of the most prolific pick-and-roll guys in basketball. And he's still the team's go-to in an exaggerated way. He takes 34.8 percent of his team's shots, a percentage that only 14 players nationwide better. Fellow junior Shavon Shields is his wing man, but behind those two, there aren't any reliable scorers. Petteway will be the major focus.
No more same old, same old. Rebounding. Free throws. These issues aren't going away. Rutgers is the only team ranked lower than Minnesota in average defensive rebounds, but even in that matchup, the Gophers got killed on the boards, 39-28. Yikes. Pitino, who has already implemented basic box out drills, said he's been using a bubble on the rim in practice lately, to force players to pursue the ball after every shot. He has to be running out of ideas. And again, on Saturday free throws were a concern. Minnesota went 11-for-17 from the stripe -- shooting less than 70 percent for the 12th time this year. Pitino has the biggest culprits shooting extras before and after practice. Will the Gophers ever reap the benefits of that?
Stay away from turnovers. A reporter pointed his recorder at DeAndre Mathieu and started the question. "Last year you guys went to Nebraska and..." The point guard didn't need to hear the rest. "...and I had seven turnovers? Yeah, yeah, yeah, it won't happen again." Mathieu didn't even remember it as bad as it was -- he actually had nine miscues, not seven. And that insufficiency at the helm of the team was the biggest culprit of the 82-78 loss that spoiled Malik Smith's eight three-pointer night. Well, expect Nebraska to swarm the ball handler once more. It won't always be Mathieu now -- Nate Mason took over the starting job two games ago -- but the Gophers will have to be tight with the ball all the way around if they want a chance because Nebraska will make every possession tough.