Tonight's game vs. Wisconsin tips at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-a.m.
Read my story from today's Star Tribune here: This team isn't the Andre and Austin show anymore.
Inhale deeply one more time, and hold it.
When the Gophers face No. 9 Wisconsin tonight at the Barn, it represents the last game of a four-game stretch of teams ranked in the top-15 -- otherwise known as the Week and a Half of Reckoning.
Not that things get easy from there -- it's the Big Ten, after all, and coach Richard Pitino has loved to remind us that playing at Nebraska in the Huskers' new facility, on Sunday, is going to be no walk in the park either.
But the foes get a little less formidable, at least, after tonight.
There was an overtime loss at Michigan State, a rally for a strong win against Ohio State (which has subsequently struggled) at home and then a drilling at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
Taking a win over the Badgers tonight, to move to 2-2 in the scary stretch would be a notable accomplishment. Losing (particularly pending where Ohio State ultimately lands), gives the Gophers significantly fewer opportunities for top quality wins. They're going to need those if they hope to get into the NCAA tournament.
Five keys for the Gophers to come away with the victory tonight:
1. Austin Hollins continuing to move in the right direction -- as I wrote earlier today, the trend of the past year and a half isn't in the senior's favor. But the Gophers will need his offensive presence, most likely, in order to beat Wisconsin. Hollins, who scored 7.4 points a game heading into Iowa, where he managed 13 to go along with eight rebounds and five steals. Can he continue to the upward movement vs. the Badgers or fall into old habits against their sturdy man defense?
2. Big threes. Hitting a barrage of shots from the perimeter is one of the best threats to down the Badgers. It certainly worked for Michigan on Sunday, with the Wolverines hitting seven of 13 attempts from downtown (53.8 percent). The Gophers can't have another performance from the perimeter like they did against Iowa, making five of 16 shots, because all Wisconsin tries to do is force teams into taking terrible two-point shots.
3. Finishing strong. We know the Gophers can start. In fact, Minnesota has led by at least eight in every Big Ten game its played this season, an interesting stat in spite of the Gophers' 3-3 record in the league. The Gophers have had some major bumps in the second half, highlighted by stretches of poor defense that allow opponents back within striking range. Minnesota has quickly learned it can't do that against the good teams and get away with it -- Wisconsin is one of those team.
4. Avoiding foul trouble. The Badgers are No. 1 in the nation in not fouling, according to kenpom.com, with opponents getting .24 free throw attempts for every field goal attempts. With the Gophers expecting to get to the line a little less, they may temper some of their offensive aggressiveness in driving to the hoop. They also need to make sure they don't let the Badgers go to the stripe too often. Last game the Gophers were in all kinds of foul trouble at Iowa, with both DeAndre Mathieu and Elliott Eliason being forced to sit. That would spell a second consecutive loss against Wisconsin.
5. Live on the boards. The Badgers haven't been a great rebounding team, particularly in the last two games, when they've collected just 59 boards. No one on the roster is really a natural rebounder, so they have to do it by committee. Elliott Eliason ranks 32nd in the nation on the defensive boards, so he will challenge the Badgers' effectiveness there.