Gophers could be in for a slippery test at Indiana

The team made it to Bloomington through the winter storm, but the status of Wednesday’s game will be closely monitored.

by Josh Katzenstein

The next Gophers menâÄôs basketball game could be an icy test âÄî both literally and figuratively.

The 18th-ranked Gophers made it safely to Indiana on Tuesday afternoon, fighting off a winter snowstorm that has left Bloomington covered in ice and snow.

According to a tweet from Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe on Tuesday afternoon, the GophersâÄô plane landed on 5 inches of snow.

As long as officials can make it to Assembly Hall for todayâÄôs game, the game will go on, according to a statement from Indiana UniversityâÄôs athletics department. The only other factor that could prevent the game would be Monroe County, where Bloomington sits, declaring a state of emergency.

âÄúIf the game is played as scheduled, due to weather conditions throughout the state of Indiana, fans are encouraged to use their own discretion and take precautions when traveling to Assembly Hall,âÄôâÄô the statement said. âÄúIndiana University would like to have a great crowd, but more importantly wants all fans to be safe.âÄôâÄô

The school canceled classes from 2:30 p.m. Tuesday until 10 a.m. today.

Assuming the teams play today, the banged-up Gophers canâÄôt afford to look past the Hoosiers.

The last time the Hoosiers played at Assembly Hall they knocked off then-No. 20 Illinois with a great defensive effort, holding the Illini to just 32.2 percent shooting.

Then Sunday, Indiana (11-11, 2-7 Big Ten) went up to East Lansing, Mich., and nearly upset Michigan State before falling in overtime. Add that recent wave of success to the GophersâÄô loss of point guard Al Nolen to a foot injury and a disappointing effort at Purdue on Saturday, and this game doesnâÄôt set up well for the Gophers (16-5, 5-4), who are just 2-4 in true road games this season.

All pessimistic issues aside, Minnesota still has Mbakwe, and IndianaâÄôs leading scorer Christian Watford is out indefinitely with a broken hand.

In the first contest between these two teams, Mbakwe matched career highs in rebounds (16) and blocks (five) while scoring 11 points. He also played great defensively against Watford, helping hold him to just 4 points on 2-for-13 shooting. Watford averages 17 points per game.

The question for the Gophers remains what they will do with their rotation to overcome the loss of Nolen. Senior Blake Hoffarber has filled in at point guard in the two games sans Nolen, playing well in a win over Northwestern and struggling against the Boilermakers in the double-digit loss.

Gophers coach Tubby Smith defended HoffarberâÄôs play after the Purdue game, and even though Hoffarber struggled against the Boilermakers tough defense, he only had two turnovers.

âÄúIâÄôm very pleased with Blake,âÄù Smith said. âÄúHeâÄôs been awesome.âÄù

With news of the 6-foot-8-inch Watford going out, the Gophers will have an even greater size advantage over Indiana, a team with no players taller than 6 feet 9 inches. In the first contest, Minnesota out-rebounded Indiana 39-26. As long as Hoffarber can distribute, which could be tough against Indiana guard Jeremiah Rivers, the Gophers have a good chance to power by the Hoosiers.

Assuming they play the game, of course.