*Note: The time of tonight's home game vs. Rutgers has been changed to 7:30 p.m. CT
Minnesota (7-19; 1-13) vs. Rutgers (6-21; 0-14) at Williams Arena
Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
The spread: Minnesota -12
*Bakary Konate attacks basketball, life, at full speed. Click.
*Previewing Minnesota and Rutgers here. Click.
*Redshirt transfer Reggie Lynch had shoulder surgery -- he'll be out until mid-summer. Click.
*Minnesota is still tweaking rotation sans Carlos Morris. Click.
*A first glimpse at Davonte Fitzgerald, from Monday's practice. Click.
*After upsetting No. 6 Maryland, could the Gophers win out? It's not completely crazy. Click.
Three days after the Gophers notched their biggest win of the season over No. 6 Maryland -- and perhaps more importantly, stopped a historically bad 14-game losing streak from getting any worse -- the players were all smiles and happy banter at a team breakfast before practice.
"They were loud," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. "They were talkative. So they're feeling good about themselves. You beat a good team, you can hold your head high."
At the start of the final stretch of a long season that has featured a cascade of close losses, big disappointment, pin-drop silent locker rooms and lots of talk about the lack of confidence, the Gophers deserved to have a moment of satisfaction for a job well done.
Now, that time is over. The Gophers have four games left in the regular season before traveling to the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis on March 8 and have got to get back to work. That stretch represents Minnesota's most winnable four-game chunk of the entire year. While the Gophers don't technically have anything to play for -- at best, Minnesota would get a CBI invitation for the postseason -- the core of this team will be back and a strong finish could go a long way for the players' psyche and the fans' restlessness.
First up is Rutgers, a team that should make the Gophers look entirely capable. No really. Although before Thursday the two teams were tied in the Big Ten standings with 0-fer records, the Scarlet Knights are in a league of their own. Rutgers is ranked 293rd out 351 Division I teams nationally by Ken Pomeroy, by far the lowest of any major-conference squad. The Gophers, sitting at 170th nationally, are favored by a whopping 12 points tonight after falling on the other side of every set of odds since starting league play.
So, one could surmise, it could be easy to overlook this really terrible team, even for a team that has been pretty darn bad itself all year. Minnesota, however, is plenty capable of flopping and losing to Rutgers if the Gophers mail it in. They're not THAT much better. They'll have to show up and play hard.
Pitino knows it. But he's not concerned. The Gophers record prior to the Maryland game is pretty much burned into the brains of his players he believes.
"There's no ego on this team," he said on Monday. "We went two months without a win, so it's not like we'd take anybody lightly. We're excited about the way that we played against Maryland and I think we want more."
Pitino is so sure that his players won't think that way that he said the team didn't even talk about it much.
"It's so ludicrous to think that our guys could be that," he said. "We know that Rutgers feels like they're capable of beating anybody just like we thought we were capable of beating anybody. So we've got to be ready to go, obviously."
7 -- games Rutgers has lost in conference by 22 points or more.
7 -- scholarship players currently available for the Scarlet Knights.
2 -- games left -- including this one -- before Rutgers star freshman Corey Sanders returns from suspension.
29 -- game-losing streak for Rutgers in conference play, dating back to last season.
87 -- the Gophers' free-throw percentage last time out, their best in league play.
3 -- of the last four games, Minnesota has shot below 39 percent from the field.
7 -- the Gophers' average three-pointers in the last two games after failing to make more than four in each the previous four.
18 -- a scoring total Minnesota guard Nate Mason has met or exceeded in five of the last eight games.
Minnesota 77, Rutgers 69