Notes on Thursday's first-round game against Northwestern (4:30 p.m. Central on ESPN2):
- Ralph Sampson III will be out today and likely beyond -- if the Gophers advance -- with an knee injury sustained in practice Monday.
- Starting in Sampson's spot will be Elliott Eliason, who has started four games in place of the senior this season.
- Andre Hollins is expected to start at point guard again despite the fact that Julian Welch (hip pointer) is available.
If the Gophers' lose today, there won't be any tomorrow -- not in a meaningful way. Lose today and the best the Gophers' can hope for is the NIT -- and that would hardly be a given. Lose today and there is no significant difference between this year's collapse and last year's, and the bridge to brighter days is looking thin as ever.
Ever since the words "crunch time" were first uttered by coach Tubby Smith or any Gophers player this season, Minnesota has struggled to rise to the occasion in pressure games and in pressure situations.
Today, the pressure is all but gone. No one really expects them to make a run. How will the Gophers react now that they're playing without expectation?
We shall see.
"Our goal is definitely to get to the NCAA tournament," Rodney Williams said. "We’re going in there with the mindset that we’re going to beat it until Sunday. Nobody wants to not make the NCAA tournament, so we’re going to go in there and fight and do everything in our power to make it to Sunday."
Three things the Gophers need to do against Northwestern:
- Attack the 1-3-1 zone early. It's still the Gophers' weakness, and Northwestern should know it by now after waiting far too long to go into it in the first matchup between the teams this season. If the Gophers allow themselves to be stifled by it while Northwestern goes on a run, it could be trouble.
- Get good post play by whoever is down there. Northwestern doesn't really have a strength inside, so it makes the Gophers' weaknesses less glaring. Last game, the Gophers out-rebounded Northwestern by 20, despite the loss. They need to be strong on the boards again.
- Limit John Shurna. Remember what happened in the second half of the last game? That was not helpful for the Gophers' outlook -- a barrage of threes can turn things around in a hurry, even if everyone else on the team is stalling. The Gophers need to get aggressive.