Tonight's game vs. Iowa tips at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-a.m.
Read my story on Elliott Eliason, his charming home town and how he came to be the man and player he is now, here.
The last two times the Gophers have played Iowa, things haven't gone so well.
In fact, things have been pretty ugly.
Both of the last two games (Jan. 19 of this season and Feb. 17 of last season) were in Iowa City and both ended in complete Maroon and Gold disaster after starting so positively.
Last year, a 21-5 lead transformed into a 19-point loss. This year, a 10-point lead just before halftime turned into a 21-point blowout by the Hawkeyes in the end.
Before the Ohio State game happened last weekend, I might have said they were two of the ugliest losses of the last two seasons, period.
Now, the Gophers will try to turn around their postseason fate against that Hawkeyes team, albeit at the friendly confines of Williams Arena this time.
A win against Iowa would give Minnesota a strong chance to slide in the Big Dance, assuming they could also notch a win over Penn State in the final game of the year. But the matchup present plenty of challenges for the Gophers.
The Hawkeyes loves to run (they're the 21st fastest team in the country) and they've found great efficiency in doing so, hitting a high percentage of their shots no matter where they're coming from. That combined with great talent, good size and a knack for securing offensive boards makes them incredibly tough to stop, especially if your defense has, well, seen its share of struggles. But on the Hawkeyes end, defensively, they have almost no drop-off. Roy Devyn Marble -- who has just been playing out of his mind -- and the rest of the backcourt have locked down the perimeter incredibly well this year, while Aaron White and Adam Woodbury have been more than adequate in the paint.
In general, while Iowa is somehow clinging to fourth place in the Big Ten, I think it's arguably the best and most complete team the talented conference has to offer.
This one won't be easy.
Minnesota will likely try to slow the pace -- the Gophers have not succeeded at playing well at a lightning pace this year -- but they've also struggled to assert their own tempo, usually adopting whatever the opponent is doing. Regaining an offensive balance will be critical. In the last two games the Gophers have shot just 8-for-42 from three-point range (19 percent) and Malik Smith's slump and Andre Hollins sluggish rehab isn't helping that much. At the same time, the Gophers have abandoned the inside approach somewhat, meaning that their offense in the last two games has just been really, really bad.
They'll need it to bounce back tonight if they hope to keep pace.
A few other notes:
*One of the Gophers' biggest defensive struggles this season has been their proclivity to foul, foul, foul. One of the worst examples of this was at Iowa, when the Gophers finished with 29, and the Hawkeyes went 27-for-37 from the free throw line. "It was like a six-point game with a couple of minutes [5:54] to go and we just kept fouling," coach Richard Pitino said. "We just didn't give ourselves a chance to win because we were fouling so much."
*Pitino said that in the midst of Austin Hollin's slump (the senior went 1-for-4 at Ohio State and has scored more than eight points just once in the last five games), the senior has maintained a very positive mindset, something he admires about the player. "Austin is not playing well," the coach said. "He knows it. We all know it. That's what I love about him -- he's a professional. He came back to work, was positive. That's why he's a special kid. When you're not playing well, do you kind of go into your shell in practice? He's the first guy trying to lead, he's the first guy after the game bringing the guys into the huddle, and that's an admirable quality to have, that's hard to do. I think he's got a great belief in himself."
*Pitino noted that the Gophers offense hadn't been clicking lately, but said he believes it's an execution problem, not an X's and O's problem and doesn't plan on tweaking much, he said. "I don't think it's that we're not getting open shots," he said. "You look at the Illinois game, the first two plays were just like wide open shots. We've just got to get a little confidence going, more than anything."