There are still three games between now and that shining beacon of Rutgers at home -- the first Gophers men's basketball conference victory predicted by analyst Ken Pomeroy. In the meantime, 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 past three polls despite star guard Caris LeVert sitting out since Dec. 30.

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.

In other words, it's not a great time to be licking your wounds and trying to collect your confidence.

Gold in the Barn: