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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Golden State 99 FINAL
Cleveland 110
Oklahoma City 113 1st OT 0:01
Phoenix 116
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Arizona 3 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Montreal 5 FINAL
Columbus 2
Philadelphia 2 FINAL
Toronto 3
Chicago 3 FINAL
Florida 0
St. Louis 2 FINAL(SO)
Winnipeg 1
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Nashville 2
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 0
Detroit 3 FINAL
San Jose 2
Northern Ky 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
East Tenn St 73 FINAL
Citadel 74
Winthrop 50 FINAL
Campbell 65
Delaware 58 FINAL
Drexel 44
Jacksonville St 57 FINAL
Eastern Ky 63
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Elon 72
Sacred Heart 90 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 85
Western Carolina 49 FINAL
Furman 53
Char Southern 81 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Western Ill 66 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Nebraska Omaha 73 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 67
Radford 69 FINAL
Liberty 80
St Francis-NY 74 FINAL
Long Island 69
Wofford 76 FINAL
Mercer 72
Minnesota 96 FINAL
Michigan State 90
High Point 75 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 71
Samford 67 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Ohio State 81
Wagner 59 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Mount St Marys 60 FINAL
St Francis-PA 63
Houston 54 FINAL
Temple 66
Vanderbilt 73 FINAL
Tennessee 65
Chattanooga 86 FINAL
Va Military 82
Milwaukee 61 FINAL
Wright State 58
Coastal Carolina 69 FINAL
Presbyterian 80
Central Conn St 69 FINAL
Bryant 77
Ga Southern 77 FINAL
Appalachian St 58
SIU Edwardsville 61 FINAL
Austin Peay 64
Green Bay 72 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 67
Texas-El Paso 60 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 77
FIU 69 FINAL
Marshall 87
Rider 63 FINAL
Monmouth 60
Eastern Ill 57 FINAL
Murray State 65
Charlotte 65 FINAL
North Texas 81
North Dakota St 58 FINAL
Oral Roberts 74
Old Dominion 63 FINAL
Rice 54
TX-San Antonio 66 FINAL
Southern Miss 70
UT Martin 69 FINAL
Tennessee St 52
Fla Atlantic 68 FINAL
Western Ky 71
Northern Ariz 85 FINAL
North Dakota 75
Grand Canyon 70 FINAL
Chicago State 74
Utah Valley U 50 FINAL
UMKC 69
ULM 75 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Texas-Arlington 80 FINAL
Arkansas State 81
Georgia State 83 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 92
Troy 61 FINAL
Texas State 67
Arizona 82 FINAL
Colorado 54
SMU 66 FINAL
Memphis 57
Tenn Tech 73 FINAL
Morehead State 86
Rutgers 85 FINAL
Purdue 92
Southern Utah 67 FINAL
Northern Colorado 77
Montana State 68 FINAL
Eastern Wash 92
UC Davis 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 74
UC Irvine 63 FINAL
Cal Poly 56
Cal State Fullerton 72 FINAL
CS-Northridge 82
Montana 87 FINAL
Idaho 92
BYU 82 FINAL
Portland 69
Pacific 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 57
Arizona State 41 FINAL
Utah 83
San Diego 39 FINAL
Gonzaga 59
St Marys-CA 84 FINAL
San Francisco 53
Oregon State 48 FINAL
Stanford 75
Long Beach State 42 2nd Half 11:22
Hawaii 47
Rice 68 FINAL
Old Dominion 83
Manhattan 67 FINAL
Monmouth 84
Georgia Southern 39 FINAL
Appalachian St 66
Marshall 74 FINAL
FIU 50
TX-Arlington 62 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
ULM 45 FINAL
South Alabama 38
Troy 75 FINAL
Texas State 59
Georgia State 39 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 56
William & Mary 84 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 55
Delaware 68 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
UMBC 41 FINAL
Maine 61
UMass Lowell 72 FINAL
Vermont 64
Albany 65 FINAL
Hartford 50
Stony Brook 68 FINAL
Binghamton 59
Boston College 60 FINAL
(8) Louisville 77
(23) Syracuse 60 FINAL
Clemson 55
(16) Duke 62 FINAL
Georgia Tech 71
Florida 53 FINAL
Alabama 49
NC State 52 FINAL
(9) Florida State 72
Miami-Florida 59 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
LSU 57 FINAL
Ole Miss 58
(11) Miss State 50 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 69
Fairfield 74 FINAL
Iona 62
Marist 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 66
Quinnipiac 91 FINAL
Rider 53
Virginia 70 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 72
Pittsburgh 59 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 87
Ohio State 88 FINAL
Penn State 70
Massachusetts 60 FINAL
Dayton 69
(22) George Washington 81 FINAL
Richmond 69
Saint Louis 53 FINAL
Rhode Island 68
Wright State 74 FINAL
Detroit 59
Green Bay 70 FINAL
Oakland 55
Western Ky 85 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 74
Indiana 72 FINAL
(5) Maryland 83
North Texas 46 FINAL
Charlotte 71
Central Arkansas 64 FINAL
Sam Houston St 56
SE Louisiana 60 FINAL
Northwestern St 71
Nicholls 63 FINAL
New Orleans 68
Incarnate Word 44 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 58
Denver 68 FINAL
No Dakota State 87
IUPU-Ft Wayne 61 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 70
IUPUI 53 FINAL
South Dakota 69
Lamar 77 FINAL
McNeese State 98
Western Ill 49 FINAL
South Dakota St 69
Missouri 70 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 69
(13) Kentucky 56 FINAL
Arkansas 51
(20) Rutgers 60 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 80
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 59
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
(17) Iowa 78
North Dakota 68 FINAL
Northern Ariz 72
Northern Colorado 88 FINAL
Southern Utah 66
Louisiana Tech 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
Montana State 63
Idaho 68 FINAL
Montana 81
Auburn 70 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(6) Tennessee 70 FINAL
Georgia 59
Gonzaga 62 FINAL
San Diego 75
USC 48 FINAL
Washington 60
Portland 63 FINAL
BYU 65
(24) California 74 FINAL
Oregon 59
(19) Stanford 69 FINAL
(7) Oregon State 58
Chicago State 49 FINAL
Grand Canyon 73
UMKC 51 FINAL
Utah Valley U 61
San Francisco 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 62
UCLA 74 FINAL
Washington St 69
Santa Clara 75 FINAL
Pacific 87
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 53
UC Santa Barbara 47 FINAL
Cal-Irvine 57
Hawaii 47 FINAL
Long Beach St 46
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
UC Davis 50

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