At the end of the Gophers' stunning shutdown of previously undefeated Michigan, ESPN analyst Dan Dakich pointed out Minnesota men's associate head coach Ed Conroy.

"He's the uncle of Liam Neeson,'' Dakich said.

Dakich got the name wrong but the motivation right. Conroy is the uncle of Gophers center Liam Robbins, who, like his team, exacted the kind of impassioned revenge that Neeson seeks in new and identical movies seemingly every five days.

Robbins and his particular set of skills led the Gophers to a 75-57 victory over No. 7 Michigan on Saturday at Williams Arena, 10 days after Michigan routed the Gophers in Ann Arbor, 82-57.

The victory wasn't just impressive because of the Gophers' intense defense, Marcus Carr's relentless drives or Robbins' combination of inside defense and outside shooting.

It was impressive because the Gophers have completed the toughest stretch of their Big Ten schedule at 4-4. They just ran a military-grade obstacle course and wound up with nothing more than splinters.

"To play that many ranked opponents and go, what, 5-4, and to beat a very good Michigan team that is blowing everybody out that is a great sign for our guys,'' Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.

Forgive him for looking ahead to his fifth Big Ten victory, but he'll probably be right in a few days.

Given the difficulty and depth of the Big Ten, which has six teams ranked in the top 25, the Gophers could have started 2-6 or 3-5 and been positioned for a good season. Instead, in eight games against ranked opponents, they made it to .500, a mark that would ensure an NCAA tournament bid.

The first eight games came against ranked teams; the next 12 will include one game against a team ranked in the Top 25 — Illinois on Feb. 20 at Williams Arena, where the Gophers have been excellent.

Pitino is not going to steal many recruits away from the league's traditional powers, and the sudden rise of Michigan under second-year coach Juwan Howard is another indication that the league will be strong for the foreseeable future.

So Pitino has had to make good use of transfers, and has put together a team that doesn't always have to be efficient offensively to be good.

Junior guard Gabe Kalscheur made just one three-pointer, on three attempts, but his perimeter and help defense proved more important on Saturday than his shooting percentage.

"We talk constantly about Gabe's shooting,'' Pitino said. "I think Gabe is the best perimeter defender in the league. I just thought we were defending as a group much better.''

At halftime on Saturday at Williams Arena, the Gophers were 0-for-11 from the three-point line, and led by seven points. That doesn't happen in modern basketball, not against quality teams.

That the Gophers were able to thrive against an excellent team without making outside shots points to the Gophers' team defense and toughness, at least at Williams Arena. They never let the Wolverines settle into a predictable and comfortable offensive rhythm.

Now they're 10-4 and well on their way to an NCAA tournament bid and perhaps a seed that would give them a favorable first-round matchup.

In fact, it would not be surprising to see the Gophers finishing with 12 or more Big Ten victories for the first time since 1982.

Since Dan Monson took the Gophers to a 10-6 Big Ten record in 2005, they have posted one winning Big Ten record — when Pitino went 11-7 five seasons ago.

They've proven they can beat Top 10 teams, with victories over Iowa and Michigan. They've proven they can respond to a blowout loss. Their final hurdle to becoming an exceptional team is winning on the road, where they have lost their last four games by a combined 79 points.

Then again, they won't have to play any more games in Iowa City or Ann Arbor.

This unlikely roster could produce a historic season, thanks in part to the vengeful guy named Liam.

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. •