Minnesota (6-17; 0-11) vs. Michigan (17-7; 7-4) at Williams Arena
Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
The Spread: Minnesota +7
Reggie Lynch and Davonte Fitzgerald, two transfers, sitting out and building their game and their friendship. Click.
Previewing Minnesota and Michigan. Click.
On the blog: The Gophers aiming to rediscover their defensive identity vs. the Wolverines. Click.
Ahmad Gilbert is expected to be back in the rotation on Wednesday. Click.
Three storylines to watch as the Gophers get more desperate for their first win:
Rejuvenated or stuck?
Minnesota has had almost a week off since its last game, a crushing 82-58 defeat at Northwestern on Thursday. Given the rare break, coach Richard Pitino gave his team two days off immediately after and then rolled out what he dubbed a “fun” practice on Sunday before getting down to business on Monday and Tuesday.
“We’re in the dog days of February,” Pitino said Tuesday. “Guys are tired. And especially with the year we’ve had, you’ve got to make sure they have a good time, too.”
The coach said on Sunday, most of practice was 5-on-5 scrimmages, trying to keep things competitive and “letting them play a little bit.” The next two days brought heavy drill work and Michigan preparation.
He pointed out that sometimes a long break can be harmful after a loss – if coaches and players let the memory of mistakes fester – but creating distance and getting rest in a long season can be beneficial too. Which reaction will the Gophers have to the extended layoff? We’ll find out tonight.
The Caris LeVert saga.
The narrative that has wrapped up Michigan media for the last six weeks has been somewhat odd. First of all, it seems like no one is quite sure exactly what kind of injury the senior guard has – with Michigan only referring to it as a “lower leg injury.” Secondly, it’s seemed like LeVert is on the verge of returning for weeks now with coach John Beilein calling his status “close” several times.
Now, the news out of Ann Arbor is that LeVert is pain-free and has been officially cleared ahead of the faceoff with Minnesota tonight. But given that LeVert has missed a lot of basketball and a lot of practice, it’s not a sure thing that we’ll see him grace Williams Arena’s raised floor.
According to Beilein, it’s LeVert’s call and LeVert’s alone.
Even if he were to play, it remains to be seen what kind of shape he’d be in, and whether the star would be able to return to his non-conference form immediately. Still, the presence of LeVert drastically changes this Michigan team. Before his exit, LeVert – still a projected first round pick in this year’s NBA draft -- was leading the team in points (17.6), rebounds (5.4) and assist (5.2) per game. He adds another element to Michigan’s offense and would require more than his fair share of attention from Minnesota’s defense and likely shake up the Gophers game plan.
Last call ‘til Rutgers.
Of course, anything can happen on any given night, even for bad teams like the Gophers. But following Michigan, Minnesota is shoved into back-to-back games against the conference’s top tier – at Iowa and against Maryland at home – before mercifully getting their first battle with lowly Rutgers.
It’s hard to imagine a victory in that stretch, by anything short of a miracle. If the Gophers lost all three, they would be 0-14 in league play heading into that suddenly high-pressure game. In the meantime, the woeful Scarlet Knights have three more winnable matchups against Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State before heading to Minneapolis. RealTimeRPI even predicts a Rutgers win against the Nittany Lions.
A Gophers victory against Michigan would, if nothing else, release the burden of a winless season before all that.
My prediction: Michigan 72, Minnesota 65