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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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 19 FINAL
San Francisco 3
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 1
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 56 FINAL
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
UAB 47 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 63 1st OT 3:05
Mercer 67
San Jose St 18 1st Half 4:38
Washington 28
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 23 FINAL
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 73 FINAL
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 61 FINAL
Richmond 56
Oklahoma 68 FINAL
South Florida 83
Princeton 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 55
(19) Oregon State 85 FINAL
Butler 53

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