Part four of our Minnesota Gophers basketball preview focuses on the 2017-18 slate of games facing the team.
Over the past two seasons, the Minnesota Gophers have not played difficult non-conference opponents. Last year, a successful 12-1 mark in their non-conference games meant nothing as the Gophers went 11-7 in conference play. My thought is that the easy non-Big Ten teams on Minnesota’s schedule inadequately prepared them for conference games.
A similar undemanding group of games makes up the early part of Minnesota’s 2017-18 season too. However, there could be a few bumps in the road, but all of the Gopher non-conference games are winnable. That being said, I do not think we will see a lack of preparation like last year. Minnesota has two Big Ten games in the middle of their non-conference stretch, which should give them a flavor for conference play.
Anyway, let’s look at the Gopher’s non-conference schedule first. These games are put in to categories based on my own made-up win probability.
If the Gophers lose any of these games, they are in trouble, no excuses.
Minnesota is far better than all three of these teams, but that does not mean they will win handily. Providence has been a NCAA Tournament staple and Massachusetts has been a consistently promising program. As for Harvard, it seems that Ivy League schools always play their best basketball against the big boys.
Two SEC match-ups make up a difficult stretch of play for the Gophers in late November and early December. Both teams won at least 19 games last season and have shown promise in the past. There is reason to believe that Minnesota could lose both of them, especially a game in Arkansas.
Toss-up: vs. #13 Miami-FL (11/29).
The one non-conference loss Minnesota has in 2016-17 was to Florida State, a ranked ACC team. Currently the only ranked team in the Gophers non-conference line-up is against Miami, an ACC team. This will no doubt be a battle, but hopefully the poor play against the ACC will not become a pattern.
Now, we can look at the Big Ten conference schedule which runs until February 25th. Again, organized by my own opinionated win probability
That Illinois game is sticking in my craw because I think Illinois will be an upstart team this season. None the less, there is really no excuse for the Gophers to lose to the bottom dwellers in the league. Rutgers is better than last year, but Nebraska might have their worst Tim Miles era team. Ultimately, there are not any true locks in the conference, but these games are as close Minnesota will get to locks.
Indiana and Penn State are still fairly average teams, but they do possess good athletes. That alone can lead to a game being stolen, especially if the Gophers are on the road. Iowa is the best out the three teams listed above, but even they are down compared to past years.
Maryland will be better than people forecast and Michigan still has one the best players in the Big Ten in Moritz Wagner. Plus, Richard Pitino has yet to beat Michigan at Crisler Center, leaving me somewhat skeptical.
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Purdue is consistently one of the most underrated programs in college basketball. To say they will have a down year is completely ignorant. I would not be surprised to see Minnesota lose both of those games to the Boilermakers. The Gophers have also not beaten Wisconsin once in Pitino’s tenure. Despite the Badgers being less stacked than in previous years, they really are Richard Pitino’s “white whale”.
Not Favorable: vs #2 Michigan State (2/13).
Miles Bridges is the best player in college basketball and that alone will win the Spartans plenty of games. However, the Gophers have The Barn advantage in the match-up, which may prove to be helpful.
The 2017-18 schedule for the Minnesota Gophers bodes well for them. There non-conference slate is more difficult than last year. However, if they win those tougher non-conference games, it will surely pay off come tournament time. On top of that, their Big Ten schedule works in their favor. It showcases some of the lesser conference teams, but as we know nothing is certain in the Big Ten.