Minnesota may have lost at Indiana Saturday, 88-81, but they have no reason to hang their heads. Through an impressive non-conference slate and their first four Big Ten games, the Gophers have been nothing but impressive. They now sit at 15-2, 3-1 in the Big Ten.
Expectations were cautiously optimistic for this Minnesota team, heading in to the season. Nobody was quite sure how Trevor Mbakwe would come back from a torn ACL, or which perimeter players would be able to shoulder the scoring load. Most observers believed Minnesota would be a good team, in the middle of the Big Ten pack. Well, 16 games in to the season, they have eclipsed those expectations.
Mbakwe has looked good, being one half of one of the best front courts in the country, along with Rodney Williams. Mbakwe has not been playing the big minutes he used to, but as the season progresses watch for that to ramp up. Andre Hollins has led a dangerous back court. He is one of the best shooters in the conference, shooting 38% on three pointers and over 90% from the free throw line.
Minnesota’s only two losses have come to Duke and Indiana, both of whom are former no. 1 teams in the country. Even in these losses, Minnesota looked impressive. They have shown an ability to stay in any game, never too small for the big stage.
Minnesota has also beaten some very good teams. In non-conference play they were able to knock off multiple quality teams, including Stanford and Florida State. So far in conference play, Minnesota has pulled off very impressive wins over both Illinois and Michigan State. Both the Spartans and Illini appear to be in the same tier as Minnesota in the Big Ten hierarchy, just behind Michigan and Indiana.
Those wins sent a message to the conference and the country. Minnesota is for real. They have showed they can play anyone on any court and have a good chance at winning. Minnesota has showed they are a legitimate top 10 team in the country, and a force to be reckoned with.
Thursday, Minnesota might just have another chance to beat a no. 1 team in the country, when they travel to Michigan. The Gophers will not be the favorites, but do not count them out, because Saturday in Bloomington, Minnesota once again showed that they are a dangerous team and can play with anyone.