Richard Pitino didn't have answers to several burning questions about his Gophers men's basketball program to finish the regular season in Saturday's 77-70 overtime loss vs. Rutgers.
In an ideal world, Pitino would have his roster at full strength heading into the Big Ten tournament Wednesday in Indianapolis. Instead, not having injured starters Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur might make it tough to make a run.
The 13th-seeded Gophers (13-14) are trying not to use injuries as an excuse for their seven-game losing streak heading into Wednesday's conference tournament opener vs. Northwestern, but it's hard to ignore.
"I look at any team in our league," Pitino said recently, "if you took two of their best players off the team, they probably wouldn't be the same."
Here are the four biggest issues for the Gophers going into this week's Big Ten tournament:
Injury status for key players
Robbins, a 7-foot junior center, ended the regular season as the first Gophers player to finish as the Big Ten's leader in blocks (2.8) in conference games since Reggie Lynch in 2016-17.
The Drake transfer combined for seven blocks even playing hurt with a sprained ankle his last three games, most recently with four blocks in 14 minutes Feb. 20 vs. Illinois. Pitino said Robbins would be evaluated Monday and Tuesday to see if he can return after being out four games.
Kalscheur's recovery timetable was three to four weeks following surgery to repair a broken finger on his right shooting hand Feb. 19. Pitino hinted there was a small chance his junior co-captain and top perimeter defender could fight his way back, but it didn't sound likely for Wednesday.
Junior guard Both Gach and Kalscheur were both starters in the backcourt earlier this season, but they've been replaced by freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. and sophomore Tre' Williams. Gach is playing with severe foot pain; Pitino said the former Austin High star might need offseason surgery.
Could Pitino be coaching his last game with the Gophers in the Big Ten tournament? He's expected to talk to athletic director Mark Coyle once the season is over, but it's tough to say when that will be.
The Gophers' overall record is below .500, so the chances are slim for any postseason opportunities beyond the conference tournament. Unless the team makes a deep run this week.
Three or four victories would put the Gophers in the semifinals (last appearance in 2019) or championship game (only appearance in 2010). That would assure them a winning record. Then maybe an NIT berth would be realistic.
Five victories would give the Gophers their first Big Ten tournament title ever and an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, but they would have to beat Northwestern, Ohio State and Purdue just to get to the semifinals.
Carr's pro prospects
Marcus Carr looked capable of leading this team on a run when he scored a career-high 41 points against Nebraska on Feb. 27.
But the junior standout looked like he checked out Saturday. Carr, who averages 19 points per game, was held to just seven points on 1-for-13 shooting in the Rutgers loss. It was his worst game of the season.
Pro basketball appears to be in his immediate future. Carr is expected to declare early again for the NBA draft this spring. But it would be beneficial for him to end his career with a bang.
In 2009-10, Tubby Smith's Gophers were led to three wins by point guard Devoe Joseph before falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney final in Indy. That also secured them an NCAA tournament at-large bid.
Adjustments for Northwestern
The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten and 340th nationally in three-point percentage at 28.6%, the lowest in team history if the season ended today. But their 678 threes attempted are second behind only Iowa (689) in the Big Ten this season and third-most in U program history.
Pitino's guys might just go out guns blazing from beyond the arc Wednesday against Northwestern, but that didn't help the Gophers in the last meeting.
Northwestern's 67-59 victory Feb. 25 at Williams Arena was the Gophers' first game without Robbins. They established the post with senior Brandon Johnson early. That led to a 31-25 halftime lead. The Wildcats' zone defense, though, dared shots from the outside. And the Gophers took the bait. They shot 4-for-27 from three and were outscored 42-28 in the second half.
Johnson battled through ankle issues to put up 19 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. But will Pitino stick with going inside or allow his players again to launch threes with reckless abandon? That could be the biggest factor in advancing or an early exit.