Just when it looked like Minnesota might find a way to turn the corner, the Gophers endured a big setback -- to the tune of 82-58 -- at Northwestern on Thursday, igniting new questions about just how bruised and battered this squad is.

But perhaps the biggest concern for Minnesota about last week's laid egg should be the imminent road ahead.

There are still three games between now and that shining beacon of Rutgers at home -- the first Gophers conference victory predicted by analyst Ken Pomeroy. Although Minnesota has dealt with problems that run the gamut, the Gophers should still be plenty more talented than the woeful Scarlet Knights, as evidenced by their KenPom ranking (282) compared with that of Minnesota (199).

In the meantime, though, the Gophers -- in the midst of playing four ranked opponents in six games -- must navigate through perhaps the toughest stretch yet.

First, Minnesota gets Michigan at home on Wednesday. The Wolverines have received at least one vote in each of the last three polls despite star guard Caris LeVert sitting out since December 30. Coach John Beilein keeps saying LeVert is close to returning, but there are no hints about whether he'll be back against Minnesota. Michigan has struggled at times lately, particularly in a back-to-back losses to Indiana and Michigan State at home, but with LeVert in tow, the Wolverines might be a top-25 caliber team.

This weekend, the Gophers have a Valentine's date at Iowa, the Big Ten leader and fourth-ranked team nationally in this week's Associated Press poll. If that's not enough of a fear factor, Minnesota will return home for a matchup against No. 2 Maryland. Minnesota is fortunate enough to face each of the two league leaders just once this season, but the Gophers get both in the span of five days and at a time when each squad is possibly playing their best basketball of the year.

In other words, it's not a great time to be licking your wounds and trying to collect your confidence after arguably the worst spill of the season. But such is the Gophers' task in the week and a half ahead. 

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