Tonight's home opener -- Minnesota's first "black out" -- vs. Ohio State tips at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN and 1500-a.m.
Five things to watch as the Gophers attempt to get their first Big Ten win of the season:
Turnaround or perpetuate? It's only two games; it's still early; this could mean nothing in March. All of those statements are true about Minnesota's 0-2 start in league play. This is also true: tonight's game vs. Ohio State -- a ranked team, but one who has proven beatable -- is a very important one. A loss would put the Gophers at 0-3: not the end of the world but also not the best position in which to head back on the road, which is what Minnesota does right after. A win could put a sluggish start in the rearview. The body language of the Gophers' two senior guards yesterday certainly didn't scream victory but they'll have a chance to change that tonight.
Calling Minnesota's offense. Last time out, the Gophers shot 33.8 percent from the field and 13.6 percent from three-point range. Both were season-lows by far, and very unlike the offense we saw score 84-plus points in the final seven games of the non-conference schedule. Mo Walker had a strong performance vs. Maryland but everyone else struggled, including Carlos Morris who scored 18 points but did it on 7-for-21 shooting. "I was talking to Carlos like 'I think we shot it too well in the non-conference,'" DeAndre Mathieu said. "We were due for a bad shooting performance and it definitely came and not a good time. We needed that road victory. It was kind of shocking but I felt that we were due for one bad night." It all starts with senior guards Andre Hollins and Mathieu, who have played some of their worst basketball since the Big Ten schedule began. Both will need to bounce back from those performances if they want to give Minnesota a chance to win.
Which defense? Minnesota has prepared for both Ohio State's 2-3 zone -- which the Buckeyes used most of the year -- and its man-to-man, which was responsible for its most recent win over Illinois. Does it really matter which the Buckeyes use? Maybe not. Although OSU has taken a small step back after the loss of harassing guard Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have still had no problem disrupting opponents this year. OSU likes to get in passing lane and dare opponents to drive. It ranks 14th in the nation in steals and seventh in forced turnovers, not exactly convenient for Minnesota. "We struggle with ball control, not turning the ball over, so it's probably going to be -- no live ball turnovers leading to fast breaks and easy looks," Mathieu said.
Star watch. Yes, OSU's top three scorers from last year are gone. In their place? One of the nation's best freshmen in D'Angelo Russell -- a big versatile guard who can shoot threes and score off the dribble. If Minnesota stays in the game, it will likely be because Hollins and Mathieu are doing their parts in containing the Louisville native, who is averaging 17.7 points and 5.1 assists for the Buckeyes. "We've got to be around him at all times if we want to have any opportunity to win this game," coach Richard Pitino said. "We've got to do a great job on him. He can score in a bunch of different ways."
Gas sighting? Pitino had a surprising turnaround on Gaston Diedhiou yesterday when he suggested the international big man could play as soon as tonight if Minnesota needs him. The coach has long talked about the freshman's rawness, but his willingness to entertain the idea of putting Diedhiou in anyway says a lot about the defensive shortcomings of Charles Buggs, who is currently backing up Joey King at power forward. If Buggs messes up a few defensive possessions in a row and King gets into foul trouble tonight, anything could happen. "He's very good defensively, a very good rebounder, he crashes hard every time," Mathieu said of Diedhiou. "His offensive game still needs a little improvement but he's very athletic, very good rebounder and he defends. He's still a little rusty offensively but on the defensive end, I feel like he could step in right away and contribute."