It wasn’t too long ago that the Minnesota Gophers were ranked No. 25 in the AP polls while whispers of a run at the Big Ten title surrounded the program. It also wasn’t long ago where Iowa was staring a bottom-four finish in the conference square in the face. Questions surrounding the health of Peter Jok only accentuated those worries.
Fast forward to the present, where Iowa is on a three-game winning streak, while Minnesota fumbled its ranking away long ago as the Gilded Rodents have lost five of their last six, the lone win coming over the past weekend against a lowly Illinois team (an Illini squad that shellacked Iowa but that’s neither here nor there).
Now these two teams enter The Barn to battle for crucial positioning in the Big Ten. An Iowa win would propel the Hawkeyes over Michigan State and tie Northwestern for fourth in the conference—which just I mean, wow—while a win for the Goofers would get them out of the bottom-half and somewhere in the middle.
Iowa has certainly been playing its best basketball of the year as its freshmen are growing and getting more comfortable with one-another while Fran McCaffery is slowly perfecting his lineups. Minnesota, meanwhile, was in a glorious slump that they just recently busted against Illinois. Was that win enough for the Gophers to get their confidence back? Hopefully not!
I suppose you probably want to learn something leading up to this game, so let’s talk turkey.
Get to know the Gophers
Minnesota is led by freshman phenom Amir Coffey and junior standout Nate Mason. Those two make up about 25 percent of Minnesota’s scoring. The Gophers have been aided by Akeem Springs lately, who’s averaging 17 points over the last four games while shooting .450 from three during that span.
Under the rim, the Gophers sort of live and die by Reggie Lynch. The 6-10 junior transfer has been a huge spark for Minnesota this season, as he’s averaging 9 points, 6 boards and 3 blocks a game. His block percentage is at 13.5% which is good for third in the whole damn nation. He’s also second in the Big Ten in personal fouls behind Damonte Dodd, and can easily be baited into committing offenses. Expect Cordell Pemsl and Tyler Cook to get into some battles with Lynch tonight. Jordan Murphy is the other forward to keep an eye on, but he’s been slumping over the last eight games and his minutes are becoming inconsistent.
Unless the wheels completely fall off this Minnesota team (and they still could!) we’re almost certainly looking at a tourney-bound squad. The Gophers are No. 10 in the nation in defense while it was 162nd a year ago. They’re 23rd in RPI and 36 in KenPom’s rankings with a win at Purdue to boot.
What Iowa has to do to win
I think the Hawkeyes just need to play the same game they’ve been playing over the past few weeks: that includes Jordan Bohannon doing some damn good things with the ball while Peter Jok realizes he’s not necessarily the best scoring option at all times for this team anymore. Inserting Nicholas Baer into the starting lineup has been huge for Iowa’s defense to start off games while Brady Ellingson and Cordell Pemsl are fantastic sparks off the bench.
Minnesota isn’t nearly as deep as Iowa off the bench and Fran McCaffery is well aware of that. Minnesota’s top scorers can also easily be frustrated as Nate Mason and Amir Coffey have proven they can be shut down. That being said I think Coffey is the biggest threat for Iowa here since at 6-8 he creates more than a few mismatches, especially when the Hawkeyes are running their smaller lineups.
I think getting him down early, while properly guarding Mason and Akeem Springs and goading Reggie Lynch into committing dumb fouls the same way we taunted Damonte Dodd is the best recipe for success, but I’m no Andrew Zimmern (there’s a shoehorned Minnesota reference for you).
Obviously, our friends at The Daily Gopher predict a Minnesota win here, as do Brent Musburger’s Friends in the Desert, whom are giving the Hawkeyes seven points on the road. If there’s one thing Iowa should not worry about, however, it is Minnesota’s propensity to choke at home. The Gophers have already lost close games to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland at the Barn and losing there is steeped rich in the history of their program. I’ve probably gone to close to a million games at Williams Arena in my short life, and my three most vivid memories there all involve Minnesota losing.
Who’s ready for a trip down Ben’s Memory Lane? If you enjoy schadenfreude, then do I have some stories for you!
- Jan. 23, 2010: Minnesota blew a four-point lead with 4 minutes left to lose to then-No. 6 Michigan State, 65-64. (This one hurt the most at the time since it was on my 18th birthday and I was almost certain I was going to enroll at Minnesota the following year. People don’t forget.)
- Jan. 14, 2015: Jarrod Uthoff finessed a layup with 3.5 seconds left to give Iowa a 77-75 win.
- Jan. 6, 2015: DeAngelo Russell scored 25 in one half to help lead Ohio State over Minnesota in overtime, 74-72.
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Perhaps we’ll turn all my fond memories of watching Minnesota athletics lose at home into a regular segment here at The Pants.
Final prediction: Iowa 81, Minnesota 77.