The 18th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers lost their fifth Big Ten game on Wednesday night, this time 61-50 on the road to 12th-ranked Michigan State. Minnesota has now lost five of their last seven games as they continue to fall from contention for the regular season conference title, if they are not already out of contention.
But the team’s recent struggles did not stop forward Trevor Mbakwe from making a bold declaration after this latest setback. Despite the fact Minnesota has scored 50 or fewer points three times in their last five games, the sixth-year senior suggested that the team still believes it can win, which qualifies as an obvious statement, but he went further and said the Golden Gophers will “win out”, according to the Associated Press.
The Golden Gophers are virtually certain to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament at this point, since their record is currently 17-6 with eight games to go, but it seems Mbakwe failed to consider the remaining schedule before making his bold prediction.
Minnesota’s final eight games brings an even split between home and road games, with home games against Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State and road contests against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Purdue. The Gophers have beaten Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa this season, with close losses to both Indiana and Wisconsin in previous games against those teams.
I think it’s safe to say Minnesota will put together strong enough games to beat both Penn State and Purdue, if only on the strength of having superior talent, and their previous decisive win over Nebraska lends some hope for a win in the rematch. But another January and February swoon under coach Tubby Smith is in full effect at this point, making the Golden Gophers look more and more like a one-and-done NCAA Tournament team no matter where they are seeded.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.