How? They have the Big Ten's second-best scoring defense.
That combination of an obsolete offense and dangerous defense has fooled Michigan State and Ohio State into low-scoring affairs that ended up wins for Iowa. The Hawkeyes almost worked the same formula for an upset of Wisconsin on Wednesday.
Minnesota won't mind a game where every shot counts. That will demand efficiency from a Gophers squad that was still recovering from a home loss against Wisconsin before a 20-point win against Northwestern.
If Minnesota can start out with a quick offensive pace and get shots to fall early in the game, there's no reason that Minnesota can't come out victorious and keep its slim hopes of playing in its first NCAA tourney since 2005. But if the Gophers fire blanks in the first half, they're in trouble. Should the second half become a game of confidence, the Hawkeyes have shown they gain it as the game goes along.
Tubby Smith has tried everything to help the Gophers obtain a championship swagger, after going 9-22 last season. He brought in the Tuskeegee Airman to talk to his players. He's had one-on-one meetings meant to encourage players to achieve their own goals. And most recently, he let players scrimmage earlier this week, so they could regain a winning feeling after losing four out of five games.
But there's not much the coach can do about a team that seems to lose hope midway through an opponent's run. Their best chance to prove that they can play through adversity comes against Iowa.
MINNESOTA 92, NORTHWESTERN 72: After Northwestern went up 18-16 early in the game — its last lead of the game — Minnesota finished the half with a 28-15 run and ended the half with a 47-33 advantage. The Gophers won the game by 20 and set a season-best scoring mark.
Northwestern's infamous zone defense was effective. They forced 15 turnovers overall, including five in the first half. But Minnesota pounded the ball inside to center Spencer Tollackson, who finished with 19 points, including five free throws. Minnesota also knocked down 12 3-pointers.
Minnesota's Jamal Abu-Shamala scored 10 quick points in the last five minutes of the first half, including a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Gophers up by 11 points.
That first half run sealed the deal for Minnesota. Northwestern's Kevin Coble did everything in his power to keep Northwestern's hopes of winning alive. But his 22 points weren't enough.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, F Damian Johnson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — G Al Nolen, G Blake Hoffarber.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They find ways to make plays because we're waiting for somebody else to do something." — Tubby Smith after a 63-47 loss to Wisconsin Feb. 3.
Minnesota 60, Ohio State 76
Minnesota 77, Michigan 65
Minnesota 47, Wisconsin 63
Minnesota 92, Northwestern 72
vs. Iowa, Saturday, Feb. 9.
vs. Illinois, Tuesday, Feb. 12.
at Wisconsin, Saturday, Feb. 16