Minnesota plays St. John's tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden in the NIT Season Tipoff opening round. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and 1500-am

A quick glance at Minnesota's schedule would tell most that these next three games -- two against talented teams in New York, one at Wake Forest -- make up the most formidable stretch of the non-conference schedule. Three games, on the road, where the Gophers struggles, against teams very capable of beating them, including a potential matchup against what would be Minnesota's second top-ten opponent this year.
These are important for the ultimate outcome of the season, right?
Richard Pitino, for one, isn't having it.
"I think if I were to talk about the importance of these games, that would imply that I don't think we're very good," he said on Monday. Why would I be talking about bubble right now? Because our expectations very, very high."
One of the coach's projects for this season is getting his players to believe it. To reach for, and talk about not just a good "Minnesota" season, but a good season for any team.
Since the start of fall practice, Pitino has voiced concerns about the confidence level of his players -- even the veterans. In most locker rooms he's coached, when he asks which players believe they're bound for the NBA, almost everyone raises their hand. But in Minnesota's locker room, only a couple of hands go up.
Over the summer, when individual players were asked what they were striving for, team-wise this year, at least a couple responded they hadn't talked about it yet.
"We need guys to start getting more confidence, a little bit more of an edge to them and believe in that," Pitino said after Minnesota's exhibition game earlier this month. "So whether that's reality or not, I don't know, but we need guys to start believing it."
The message has apparently gotten across, at least to Andre Hollins.
One might be forgiven if they blinked when hearing him respond to a question about the team's goals.
"We expect to make it to the Final Four and contend for the the Big Ten championship," he told the Star Tribune this week. "In the past, we were settling for mediocrity. We needed to change our attitude."
That starts at the top, where Pitino refuses to assign weight to the coming stretch, unwilling to let his players believe the season is fundamentally affected, no matter how the Gophers fare. Three wins would be a big step toward lofty goals not often talked about in this state. But a few losses shouldn't change their mindset, Pitino believes.
"We're hoping come February, we're talking great seeds, not bubble," he said. "We know that's tough, but that's the way we talk in our locker room."
Other notes:
***After watching the film, Pitino said he was content with his team's defense against UMBC -- swiping 13 steals and holding the Retrievers to 37.8 percent shooting -- but was concerned with the fouling and shot selection.
The Gophers had (major) foul trouble against Louisville as well, then tempered the issue against Western Kentucky and Franklin Pierce before the UMBC matchup reignited the problem. The common theme? Louisville and UMBC are both aggressive driving teams, Western Kentucky and Franklin Pierce are not.
But Minnesota will face some good driving guards in the next two games, so calling fouls has been a focus in practices leading up to this trip.
"We've got to be able to pressure without fouling," Pitino said.

***Leading up to this week's NIT Season Tipoff, the Gophers had three non-conference games in five days, an usually packed week created by a late-scheduled game by the NIT.
The circumstances meant Minnesota had to play two games on one day of preparation. Players noted that the experience would help get ready for postseason tournaments, when such time constraints are the norm -- as well as New York. But did that hectic week really help prepare the team or did it just make life more difficult?
Pitino said he liked that his team understood that the practices between would be light for a reason, and didn't take advantage of it.
"I kind of told them 'Don't make me practice you hard on a one-day prep,'" Pitino said. "We should all be mature enough to understand what's important and the work that needs to get done. I liked their maturity, I liked their professionalism in those two one-day preps.

"Now, win or lose [against St. John's], we're going to play an SEC team or Gonzaga, certainly that competition is much, much greater."