Gophers vs. No. 20 Iowa: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

No intro needed for this one.

I don't think the magnitude of this game is lost on players, coaches or fans.

If the Gophers win, they're back on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. If they lose, they HAVE to beat No. 16 Michigan on the road on Saturday — a tall task no team wants to rely on.

The last time these two teams met, Iowa stomped on the Gophers in the final 20 minutes en route to a 94-73 win in Iowa City, Iowa. 

The Gophers can't afford another half-game lapse. They'll need 40 solid minutes tonight to have any chance.

Here are my 5 things to watch for:

Mentality: As cliche as this one sounds, I put it first becase I really think it's the biggest key to the Gophers having any shot on Tuesday night.

Gophers head coach Richard Pitino made a point of saying his team "mentality hijacked" itself in the second half of the Gophers 64-46 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. 

Yesterday, freshman guard Daquein McNeil said the team's confidence isn't where it should be right now.

Minnesota needs to head into its matchup with the talented Hawkeyes as confident as possible. If the Gophers are tentative, Iowa will jump them, much like the Hawkeyes did back in January.

The Gophers have proven capable of playing with the best teams the Big Ten has to offer (see home OSU and Wis. and @MSU), but they've also floundered recently under the pressure the NCAA Tournament bubble has to offer.

Which Minnesota squad will come to play on Tuesday night?

Outside Shooting: This team is meant to hit jump shots, and it hasn't been able to do that at all lately.

The Gophers are 8 for 42 from deep over their past two games. That's not good enough for this team. Yes, DeAndre Mathieu can get to the rim with the best of them, and yes, Mo Walker has shown flashes of being a dominant offensive presence in the post. But the two of them need room to operate, and they need the opposing defense to have to respect shooters on the outside. Three things can help Mathieu and Walker out:

Malik Smith needs to start hitting his jump shots.

Andre Hollins nees to start hitting his jump shots.

Austin Hollins needs to start hitting his jump shots.

The Atmosphere: Pitino hit the nail on the head when speaking of the Gophers loss to Illinois just six days ago:

No one enjoyed it. Not the fans, not the players, not the coaches (And if I'm honest, not this reporter. That was an ugly game all the way around). 

Pitino, who's been entirely complimentary of the Barn all season, said this of the Williams Arena atmosphere:

"As a fan base, let's enjoy every single game: Not (just) Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana."

The Gophers likely need a boost from the Minnesota faithful on Tuesday night. A quick Gophers start could get the crowd going.

Limiting Turnovers: Seriously, the Gophers have committed 13-plus giveaways in each of their last four games. Minnesota isn't a good enough team to win while wasting possessions and giving the other team easy bucketes off of turnovers. 

They've got to clean it up.

Runnin' Hawkeyes: Iowa is the 21st quickest team in the nation. And in the second half of the January matchup between these two teams, the Hawkeyes ran the Gophers out of the gym.

It would probably benefit the Gophers to try to slow Iowa down, but Minnesota tends to play at whatever pace its opponent chooses to play at.

So expect a track meet. Prediction:  Iowa 78, Gophers 74 (Minnesota has a 36 percent chance of victory) 


Also, check out my story on how Richard Pitino stays positive despite the Gophers recent woes: