Looking at the Gophers 2013-14 Big Ten schedule, it appears, at least on paper, to set up fairly well for the maroon and gold. Minnesota faces Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan St. and Indiana — the latter three all NCAA tournament teams from last year — just once and Indiana, last year's regular season Big Ten champion, will have to come to the Barn to take on new head coach Richard Pitino and the Gophers.
Minnesota's first Big Ten tilt has to jump out at you: the Jan. 2 matchup with the reigning national runner-up Michigan at Williams Arena. The matchup serves as a rematch to the Jan. 17 83-75 Michigan victory at Wiliams Arena last season, which featured possibly the loudest crowd the Barn saw all season.
Michigan is a favorite to win the conference in 2103-14 even after losing guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA draft in June. That's because the Wolverines return plenty of talent. NCAA tournament hero, center Mitch McGary, and forward Glenn Robinson III, both sophomores, showed great potential in their freshman seasons and figure to lead Michigan this year. Pitino should learn a lot about his team from seeing how his team handles the Wolverines in his first Big Ten game.
Minnesota has struggled down the stretch in recent years. Over the last three seasons, the Gophers have gone 7-21 in February and March regular season conference games, probably one the main reasons former head coach Tubby Smith is no longer with the team. Big Ten schedule makers certainly won't be helping Minnesota reverse that trend with any cake walks in February and March this season. In February and March this year the Gophers' schedule looks like this: Northwestern (H), Purdue (A), Indiana (H), Wisconsin (A), Northwestern (A), Illinois (H), Ohio St. (A), Iowa (H), Michigan (A) and Penn St. (H).
With road contests in tough environments against Wisconsin, Ohio St., Michigan and Purdue and home matchups with perennial contenders Illinois and Indiana, Pitino will need to have his guys playing well to contend in the Big Ten coming down the home stretch of the conference schedule and avoid fading away as they have had a habit of doing in recent years.
It's always nice to see Wisconsin on the schedule twice in a season. The two teams will meet at the Barn on Jan. 22 and again at the Kohl Center on Feb. 13. This will be the third straight season of that occurence after the two teams met just once in both the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons. Last year the Gophers and Wisconsin competed in two low-scoring duals, with the Badgers taking the Jan. 26 game in Madison 45-44 on the strength of a Traevon Jackson game-winning jumper, while Minnesota won the Valentine's day matchup 58-53 in overtime at Williams Arena. Both teams probably felt as though they should have swept the series last year, and it should be fun to watch them go at it two more times.
The border battle features an added twist this year as it will provide an opportunity to see Pitino's up-tempo attack go up against the Badger's snail-paced style. There have been many questions swirling around Pitino's style and how it will fare in the tranditional walk the ball up the court pace featured in the Big Ten. If the Gophers are able to push the ball succesfully against the Badgers, it should mean they can do so against most all of their conference opponents. This summer a fan asked Pitino how he was going to play an up-tempo style against Wisconsin, to which Pitino responded, "How's Wisconsin going to slow us down?" It will be interesting to see if one team's tempo wins out in those matchups, or if the pace sets itself somewhere in the middle.
With Michigan's Burke now in the NBA and no longer in the Big Ten, Minnesoat's Andre Hollins, Michigan St.'s Keith Appling. Ohio St.'s Aaron Craft and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell appear to be the class of the Big Ten's point guards. Gophers fans will get a chance to watch Hollins take on his top-tier counterparts on four different occassions this season:
Jan. 11: Gophers at Michigan St. (Hollins vs. Appling)
Jan. 16: Ohio St. at Gophers (Craft vs. Hollins)
Feb. 8: Indiana at Gophers (Ferrell vs. Hollins)
Feb. 22: Gophers at Ohio St. (Hollins vs. Craft)
For the remainder of the Gophers 2013-14 Big Ten schedule, click here.