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

Gophers have struggled some, but thanks to Big Ten craziness, they're still very much relevant

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: January 31, 2014 - 11:43 AM

Last night, Nebraska returned from a 16-point deficit to overcome Indiana, a team that we thought might be pretty good at the beginning of the year.

Was anyone surprised? 

This season has proved to be as topsy turvy as ever in the Big Ten -- upsets are becoming almost as expected as the favored wins.

And all of the craziness is helping the Gophers.

Minnesota has managed two good wins on the season, but has struggled to get over the hump, having big letdowns after each notable victory. Yet at 4-4 the Gophers are still very much in the thick of things in the conference, which features only three teams actually over .500 in league play. Minnesota might be struggling some, but the overall depth and wildness of the Big Ten is keeping the Gophers relevant.

Michigan and Michigan State have announced their presence as the clear frontrunners -- with the Wolverines perfect after an unsteady start in the non-conference schedule. Iowa has shown it is very, very good as well. Beyond that, everything is a crap shoot.

Ohio State and Wisconsin -- who knows what is going on there. Both lost on Wednesday night in head scratchers (the Buckeyes at home against Penn State and the Badgers at home against Northwestern -- what??) and have looked like not-very-convincing impostors of their earlier seasons. Teams like Nebraska and Penn State and Northwestern (which will head to Minneapolis on Saturday full of confidence) -- all of which we didn't think too much of at the start of the year -- have been able to pull off some major upsets that have kept most teams from pulling away.

In a normal year, 4-4 would probably have the Gophers floating somewhere around the eighth or ninth spot. Now? They're tied for fourth. With previously unbeaten Wisconsin.

Hard to even understand.

More than anything, this presents a huge opportunity for Minnesota. The Gophers, a team with so many new and inexperienced pieces, has had time to dip it's toes in the Big Ten, make mistakes, drop some big ones -- and still sit in a position where they can finish at a respectable conference standing. And despite the nightly insanity, the league is still considered one of the best -- if not the definite best -- conference in the nation. That means that wins against the league's top and middle tiers (do we know what the middle tier is yet??), and a good finish in the standings will still do a lot for a potential NCAA tournament resume.

This year might be one of the most exciting Big Ten hoops seasons in recent memory. And thanks to all it's wackiness, the Gophers are still very much relevant.

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