This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Breaking down the next four games: The scary, the scarier and the silver linings

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: January 10, 2014 - 12:59 PM

The Big Ten will have plenty of challenges for Minnesota throughout the season -- but none as great as the next four game stretch.

That span of a week and a half -- you can call it The Meat Grinder or the Sadistic Slate or the Trail of Terror (these are just some suggestions) -- is going to test the Gophers in every way they can be tested and ultimately spit out a very blunt picture of just what this team is.

Let's take a look at the next four:

at Michigan State (1:15 Saturday, BTN):
The scary: The atmosphere at Breslin Center, where student section wraps around the court is simply terrifying, and will jolt the Gophers awake after a game at Penn State in which Amelia -- the queen of paranoia about ear damage -- didn't even think about putting in her ear plugs.

The scarier: Sparty has executed all season long despite a flurry of injuries. All three of MSU's top scorers have dealt with some issue or another, and yet they are all producing at a high level. Against Ohio State, the Spartans were again hobbled (Travis Trice = flu, Keith Appling = cramps, Adreian Payne = sore foot) but yet they got the job done against one of the nation's best teams.

The silver lining: The Spartans can lose leads too. In fact, they lost a whopper against the Buckeyes, nearly letting the big win slip away after Ohio State plowed back from a 17-point deficit. It's something the Gophers have had trouble with, so although OSU is, well, much better than Penn State or Purdue, that fact may be of some comfort to Minnesota fans.

vs. Ohio State (8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN2):
The scary: The Buckeyes boast two of the premiere ball theives in the country. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott have both been incredibly pesky early on (Scott has the 23rd best steal percentage in the nation according to kenpom.com, and Craft is 46th best), something that should be concerning for a Gophers team that has had trouble holding onto the ball in conference play even when they aren't being harassed.

The scarier: Hey look, it's the top-rated efficient defense in the nation. It's not just Craft and Scott -- Ohio State has played incredible all-around defense, allowing just 56 points a game. The Gophers' offense has been the strength of the team early on, but if they struggle to get going against the Buckeyes stifling system, it will put extra pressure on their own defense to keep them in the game. 

The silver lining: They're human? That's right, Ohio State is no longer undefeated after dropping their first loss to MSU on Tuesday. There's really no shame in that, especially at a place like Breslin Center, and after battling back from a deep deficit, but it does shave off a sliver of the intimidation factor.

at Iowa (noon Jan. 19, BTN):
The scary: Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White have both taken the next big step. With a strong early start to the year, the pair has shown the capability of being leaders, just what a team on the verge needed. Both have been consistent through the start of Big Ten play, and have stepped up in the big games, even the losses (such as Villanova and  Iowa State). These two are carrying the Hawkeyes.

The scarier: They know how to dominate. Iowa has not had the problem of playing down to competition this year: if the opponent shows a weakness, the Hawkeyes will take advantage. Iowa, which routed Northwestern by 26, has beaten five teams by at least 33 points this year, and three by at least 43.

The silver lining: Iowa isn't on the same level as the other three. The Hawkeyes are still growing and improving and isn't a bonafide powerhouse. They've struggled in close games, with all three losses coming by five points or fewer, so if the Gophers can keep it close, they've got a chance.

vs. Wisconsin (8 p.m. Jan. 22, BTN)
The scary: The Badgers are still undefeated, despite playing arguably the toughest schedule in the nation (they are currently No. 1 in RPI and No. 3 overall on kenpom.com)

The scarier: We know all about Bucky's defense, but what about this offense? Kenpom ranks Wisconsin as the third most efficient offense in the country, powered by their extremely balanced lineup.

The silver lining: The Badgers haven't hit the meat of their schedule yet. Is Wisconsin battle-tested or exhausted? Yes, Wisconsin had a tough non-conference schedule, comparably -- considering most teams do not face seven top-100 teams during that slate -- but they have yet to see the league's best. The win vs. Iowa was good, but close , and at home. How will the Badgers fare against the conference elite on the road? We still don't know that yet.

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St. Louis 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Texas - C. Lewis 2:40 PM
Seattle - E. Ramirez
Washington - D. Fister 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick
Tampa Bay - D. Smyly 6:05 PM
Baltimore - K. Gausman
Boston - J. Kelly 6:07 PM
Toronto - M. Stroman
NY Yankees - S. Greene 6:08 PM
Detroit - D. Price
Atlanta - J. Teheran 6:10 PM
NY Mets - Z. Wheeler
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - M. Latos
Cleveland - C. Kluber 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi
Minnesota - P. Hughes 7:10 PM
Kansas City - L. Hendriks
Oakland - D. Pomeranz 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 8:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 8:40 PM
Arizona - W. Miley
Miami - H. Alvarez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - H. Santiago
Colorado - F. Morales 9:15 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
D.C. 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary

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