Gophers hoping for a change of fortunes

Minnesota lost twice in the regular season against Michigan, its first-round opponent.

C.J. Spang

Twice this season, Minnesota’s men’s basketball was trounced by Michigan.

The Gophers are hoping to change things with the stakes raised when they take on Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 1:30 p.m. today at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines beat the 10th-seeded Gophers 71-55 on Jan. 21 and 72-50 on Feb. 15.

“Obviously you don’t want to play a team that’s beat you like that,” sophomore center Spencer Tollackson said. “But we’re really excited just to prove to everyone that we’ve gotten better and this is it for us.”

A big reason for Michigan’s victories over Minnesota was the play of first-team All-Big Ten senior guard Daniel Horton.

Horton scored 53 points in the two wins over the Gophers, knocking down all 18 of his free throws.

“He’s kind of their Terminator,” Tollackson said. “He’s kind of what they live and die off of.”

But Michigan is slumping as of late, losing six of their past eight games, including back-to-back losses to end the season.

While that would seem like an opportune time for the Gophers to play the Wolverines, Minnesota is coming in on its own three-game losing skid, losing those games by a combined 13 points.

Add in the fact that the last time these two teams met, Michigan had lost three-straight games while the Gophers had won their previous two games and all the omens might not be good for Minnesota.

“Everybody tried to tell us we were catching them at a good time last time when they lost three in a row and we’d won a couple and all that – didn’t work out,” coach Dan Monson said. “Sometimes that can really come into play. Also, sometimes they can play very tight.”

Minnesota’s NCAA Tournament chances are riding on their performance in the Big Ten Tournament.

The only realistic way the Gophers can earn themselves a spot in the Big Dance is by winning the tournament and earning the automatic berth that comes along with the championship.

However, the team feels just making the championship game may be enough.

“I think if we get to the championship (game) we’ve got a legitimate shot at it,” Tollackson said. “But if you’re gonna get there, you might as well win it.”

Third-team All-Big Ten senior guard Vincent Grier summed it up even simpler:

“When the ball go up at 2:30 (Eastern time),” Grier said, “it’s time to play basketball.”