Gophers surging into Evanston

Anthony Maggio

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team will likely finish the season with a losing record on the road.

Heck, the Gophers need to go undefeated over their last four games away from Williams Arena just to finish .500 on the road.

But Minnesota’s final road record doesn’t really matter. Its final overall record does.

The Gophers (14-7, 6-4 Big Ten) play four more games on the road this season, starting Wednesday night at Northwestern (10-12, 2-9).

With six games to go, Minnesota sits tied for fourth in the conference, but only a game and a half out of the lead – making the Gophers’ final stretch a crucial one.

The top six teams – Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan State – are separated by two games and all play at least half of their remaining games against a top-six opponent.

The Gophers, the only top-five team with a conference loss at home, play three of their final four games against the Spartans, Badgers, and Illini, with only Wisconsin coming to TheBbarn.

“If everybody had their choice they’d play at home,” coach Dan Monson said. “I also think that as the year wears on it becomes less and less a factor. I hope our players know that there’s a lot more riding on it than who’s in the stands.”

Just in case, Monson is changing things up a bit. After giving the players an extra day off with their bye last weekend, Monson moved his troops from Williams Arena to the Sports Pavilion.

Monson made the switch to give the Gophers a different look from their home environment.

In addition, he also purchased new basketballs – balls that are used in the arenas Minnesota will travel to the rest of the season.

Monson hopes his players can forget about their road woes to this point and steal a few vital games for postseason purposes.

“Our mistakes we’ve had on the road are in the past,” guard Kevin Burleson said. “We need a win because we need to get to the (NCAA) tournament and win the Big Ten. Each game counts, no matter where we are at we need to get that win.”

The Gophers play their first road game in two weeks Wednesday against the Wildcats, who are coming off a loss at Michigan State on Saturday.

Minnesota trounced Northwestern 74-57 when the teams met in Minneapolis on Jan. 25, but the Wildcats have defeated Illinois and co-Big Ten leader Purdue since then.

“The advantage we have is that we are at home,” Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. “And that seems to help everybody.”

And that is definitely an understatement.

In conference games so far this season, the Big Ten posts a combined winning percentage of 23.7 (14-45) on the road.

The good news for Minnesota is that Northwestern has allowed three of those 14 road victories. In addition, the Gophers are coming off their best back-to-back performances of the season after wins against Purdue and Iowa.

“You can keep momentum going for a long time,” center Jeff Hagen said. “This week’s practice had been a whole lot different than the last time we had a week off after Illinois. Coming off the loss you don’t have the confidence.

“But now everybody’s upbeat and ready to go.”