The Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball program has done the research to gauge just how daunting this current gauntlet of Big Ten play has been.
“This is the toughest stretch in the history of Gopher basketball,” head coach Richard Pitino said on his KFAN radio show Tuesday. “Nobody has every played this many ranked opponents in a row. We looked back. … In college basketball, it hasn’t happened since 2011.”
Minnesota is near the end of seven straight games against ranked opponents, a tough stretch that will end when No. 7 Michigan visits Williams Arena for a 1 p.m. tipoff Saturday.
It’s the most consecutive games against ranked teams since St. John’s played eight straight in 2011, Minnesota said. So, the school has billed this as the “most-difficult stretch of college basketball in the last 10 years.”
Minnesota has gone 3-3 so far, and the undefeated Wolverines pose the toughest test in the conference right now. They led No. 9 Wisconsin by 40 points on Tuesday and cruised to a 77-54 win.
The Gophers trailed Michigan by 37 points in Ann Arbor during a 82-57 defeat a week ago. Then Minnesota lost 86-71 to No. 5 Iowa on Sunday. But given those two losses were to Top 10 teams, Minnesota held onto a top 25 ranking of their own, coming in at No. 24 in the Associated Press poll on Monday.
The Gophers’ current stretch is even tougher if you look at the front end. They beat St. Louis, 90-82 on Dec. 20, when Billikens were unranked, but they now check in at No. 23. A game before that, Minnesota’s Big Ten opener was against now-No. 14 Illinois.
Minnesota this week enjoyed its longest layoff without a game this season, and Pitino gave his players three days off to recharge for the final 13 games of the regular season. After the Wolverines game, the Gophers have only one ranked opponent on its remaining schedule, Feb. 20 versus the Illini.
The Gophers, however, could have a similar layoff next week. Their game against Nebraska in Lincoln next Wednesday is in doubt because the Cornhuskers have paused activity because of positive COVID-19 cases. They postponed Wednesday’s game against the Illini and Saturday’s game against Maryland.
“At this time,” the Nebraska said on Tuesday, “no determination has been made on how the pause may impact scheduled games beyond Jan. 16.”