The last two Gophers teams that won four consecutive Big Ten games (2005-06 and 2008-09) made the NCAA Tournament. But this Gophers squad has greater aspirations than an NCAA bid. It could stay in the Big Ten race with a late-January rally.
Suddenly, a team that looked middle-of-the-pack before its win over the Boilermakers has a shot to recover in a league with a lot of question marks. Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue have all lost at least one conference game, and Ohio State has teetered on the brink of defeat in multiple outings.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Blake Hoffarber is a career 42 percent 3-point shooter, but his marksmanship has been affected by stifling defenses throughout his career. But the senior scored 26 points in a variety of ways in a 70-67 win over Purdue on Jan. 13. He came off screens.
He hit jumpers. He scored on floaters. Hoffarber is clearly a more versatile player, and now opponents have reasons to be concerned with the new wrinkles he's added to his game. Last year, only 58 of his shots weren't from 3-point range. This season, he's already taken 51 from inside the 3-point arc.
--The Gophers upset eighth-ranked Purdue 70-67 on Jan. 13 at Williams Arena, their first home win over a Top 10 team in more than a decade. Blake Hoffarber scored 26 points and went 4-for-6 from 3-point range. The Gophers held JaJuan Johnson (29 points) to two points in the last 11 minutes of the game. The Boilermakers failed to score in their last three possessions.
--The Gophers need more 3-point shooters. But where will they find them? They're the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten. And sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber has made nine of their 14 threes in Big Ten play. Devoe Joseph, who left the team last week, hit 38.1 percent of his 3-point attempts.
--The Gophers are so desperate for big men that they recently utilized Dominique Dawson, a sophomore walk-on who redshirted last year and played in one other game this season. Tubby Smith said he thought about using Elliott Eliason, who most expect to redshirt this season, after the team lost freshman center Mo Walker to a season-ending injury last month.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- The number of three-pointers that the Gophers have made in four Big Ten games, the lowest tally in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just bad coaching. I'm a terrible coach." -- Coach Tubby Smith said, sarcastically, when asked about his defensive switches in a loss at Ohio State Jan. 9.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: Matt Gatens has excelled for the Hawkeyes, playing their first season under Fran McCaffery. He's a versatile scorer who's made 34 percent of his three-point shots. But Blake Hoffarber, who's made 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season, is having the best season of his career.
FUTURES MARKET: With Devoe Joseph transferring, the Gophers have another scholarship open. And they might be going big. Walter Pitchford, a 6-8 forward out of East Lansing, Mich., is on the Gophers radar. He's a very athletic player who could contribute immediately.
--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe, the Big Ten's leading rebounder, did not start against the Boilermakers after he was arrested Jan. 10 on suspicion of violating a harassment restraining order. A 22-year-old woman called police after Mbakwe sent her a Facebook message. Two years ago, Mbakwe agreed to stay away from the woman, an ex-girlfriend. Coach Tubby Smith opted against suspending Mbakwe, who missed the entire 2010-11 season due to legal issues.
--Senior G Al Nolen scored 13 points against the Boilermakers in his third consecutive double-digit effort, but he's been even more effective on defense. Nolen has recorded nine steals over the past three games. There were concerns that the point guard lacked full strength after he missed five games with a foot injury, but he looks as if he's 100 percent now.
--Former junior G Devoe Joseph left the program last week without a word. His mother, however, said her son needed a change of scenery. Connie Joseph also said that her son had been considering a move all season.
--Sophomore G/F Rodney Williams is beginning to showcase his potential. Deemed an NBA prospect before the season started, the 6-7 wing has been inconsistent all year. But he's 10 for 17 in the team's last two games. And he's playing tight defense.