Yes, I am terrified. The Gopher win over Illinois this weekend did just enough to get them back into bubble talks, and with two "easy" games left - at Michigan and vs. Iowa - things should be looking in decent shape for them to stay in consideration.
But my entire Minnesota rooting life has conditioned me to expect the worst and I am nearly certain they will lose one of these two games. Will they win the "tougher" one and beat Michigan just to drop the "easy" game and the end of the schedule? Or will they just drop this first one here and put everyone out of their misery? Or is it possible, just possible, they'll ask win both games, as they should, and go into the Big Ten Tournament in good enough shape to justify consideration?
I don't know, I just don't, but this feels just like watching the Vikings/Saints all over again. You don't know why or how, but you just know things aren't going to go in your favore.
1. So how has Michigan done since their soul-crushing defeat of the Gophers? They followed up that win by winning at Iowa, and since have lost three straight: versus Penn State and Illinois and at Ohio State while failing to score more than fifty-five points in any game. They have continued to be terrible at scoring the basketball, and have shot 36% or less in all three games during the losing streak while continuing to be horrible at shooting the three-pointer, hitting a combined 17-76 (22%) in the three games while shooting them with the frequency of a drunk wrestler at open gym, taking 76 of them compared to just 40 by their opponents. In short, they're still bad.
2. Remind me again how the Gophers lost last time? Michigan actually scored the ball, hitting 50% from the field and 7-14 from three, with less reliance on the three-point shot because they were able to get the ball inside, leading to DeShawn Sims doing whatever he wanted and scoring 27 points. Not to mention that the Wolverines only turned it over eight times, and the future (and the now) of the Gophers, Devoe and Sampson, combined to score just eleven points on 3-12 shooting. You can read my live blog of the game here, but I have to warn you that by the end it just degenerated into me insulting the Gophers using British slang.
3. So are we still worried about Sims? Well, he followed up that monster game against the Gophers with another good one against Iowa (27 and 10), but since then has fallen back to earth. He's gone 10 and 8, 7 and 13, and 11 and 6 in the losing streak, and has hit on just 34% of his field goal attempts. The problem isn't even that he's fallen back in love with the three-point shot, which he has a tendency to do, since he took just three attempts in those three games. Since he started since slump, Ralphie has gone in the opposite direction, and even though he didn't put up impressive numbers against Illinois he is still showing more emotion and more aggressiveness. I think Ralph dominates Sims, so I'm not worried. I mean, I'm worried, but I'm not worried.
4. Any sneaky "key-to-the-game" type players for the Gophers this time around? I'm going with Paul Carter and, to a lesser extent, Rodney Williams. Michigan has a limited number of athletes, and when they're busy trying to check the Gophers' main guys, Carter and Williams should be able to have success getting inside. Especially Carter, who has been very good lately when given the playing time. In his last three games where he's played more than 10 minutes (Michigan, Northwestern, and Illinois) he's hit double-figures in scoring and grabbed at least 3 boards while hitting 13 of 18 shot attempts. Rodney had his second-best game in the Big Ten season against Illinois, going for 8 points and 6 rebounds, and could be finally breaking out - no better time than the present.
5. So do they stay alive for a bid? There really isn't any reason to believe Michigan is going to win this game. They are a bad, bad team, and the only Big Ten wins they have grabbed in Ann Arbor this year were against Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio State without Evan Turner. Of course, they also beat UCONN in Crisler. Even more of course, the beat the Gophers in Minneapolis. And the most of course of all, is that this is the kind of game I believe in my black heart, deep down inside, that the Gophers always have and always will lose. I wish I didn't feel that way, but be honest - would you really be surprised?
Michigan 68, Minnesota 64.