The Gophers men’s basketball team will open the season with at least 10 wins in November and December.
Why it happens: Minnesota’s nonconference schedule is soft. Opposite of last season, when it was the toughest during Richard Pitino’s tenure. All seven nonleague games are at home with ACC bottom-feeder Boston College as the lone high-major foe.
Why it won’t: Going 7-0 in nonconference is one thing. Winning at all during the Big Ten’s December schedule is another, considering the Gophers play the top four teams in the league. That slate looks like this: at Illinois, at Wisconsin, vs. Iowa and vs. Michigan State at home.
Gophers finish with multiple all-league players, including Marcus Carr vying for Big Ten player of the year.
Why it happens: Carr was the first U guard picked to the all-league preseason team in three years. The Big Ten’s returning assist leader is a player of the year candidate if the U contends. Transfers Both Gach and Liam Robbins are two of the Big Ten’s most talented players at their position as well.
Why it won’t: The Gophers haven’t had a Big Ten player of the year since Bobby Jackson during the vacated Final Four season in 1996-97. Daniel Oturu had the numbers to do it, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds last season. Oturu got drafted but didn’t even make all-league first team.
Pitino leads the U to a top-five NCAA tourney seed and first third place or higher Big Ten finish since 1997.
Why it happens: The Gophers were tied for fourth in the Big Ten and a No. 5 NCAA seed in Pitino’s fourth year, but this team is deeper. A strong start vs. the Big Ten’s upper echelon during a tough eight-game stretch to begin conference play puts the U in the title mix.
Why it won’t: The Big Ten got a record eight NCAA tournament teams in 2019, the last time March Madness was played after being canceled last season. There might be 10 NCAA tournament teams this season, but six or seven are potentially deeper and more talented than the Gophers.
The Gophers play all 27 regular-season games, including 20 league games, during the pandemic.
Why it happens: The Gophers had multiple players test positive for COVID-19 and paused team activities before the season. They were able to get things under control before Wednesday’s opener. The Big Ten’s daily antigen testing and absence of students on campus will minimize risk of infection.
Why it won’t: Daily coronavirus testing didn’t help Big Ten football teams from having outbreaks and missing games during the season. The 21-day quarantine for football players isn’t the same in hoops, but even a two-week shutdown is enough to miss a few games.