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Let’s Battle for 8th: Minnesota vs. Northwestern

Background Check:

Let’s look back to the point before the season even began. Both Minnesota and Northwestern were thought of being ‘in’ for the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Gophers were prepared to compete for a Big Ten title with senior leadership and the arrival of Trevor Mbakwe. The Wildcats were aiming to finally make it to the NCAA Tournament and settle in the middle of the conference.

Well, look how things have changed. Tubby Smith and the Gophers can’t seem to buy a win in the past month while Northwestern has played as inconsistent as any team out there the whole season. Not only will these teams battle off against each other on Wednesday, but also they are likely to meet each other next week as well in the Big Ten Tournament in the first round.

The Skinny:

It’s Senior Night for Northwestern as the Wildcats graduate four players including starter Michael Thompson. Thompson has been a starter all fours years at the program and will absolutely be missed in Evanston. In fours years at NW, Thompson has logged over 1500 points and 4200 minutes. Thompson has played almost 200 more minutes this season than any Wildcat.

The other seniors include Mike Capocci, Ivan Peljusic, and Jeff Ryan. Capocci is the only other senior that has played in every contest while averaging over 10 minutes a game. He is shooting 50 percent on the season and almost has a one to one ratio for offensive and defensive rebounds.

As for Minnesota, losing seven of eight was not even close to what was expected earlier in the season. After winning the Puerto Rico Tip-off, the ceiling was the Gophers seemed to be the Big Ten title. But once Al Nolen was injured, there was no chance for Minnesota. The only remaining point guard on the team became Maverick Ahanmisi, a true freshman who was a late addition to the recruiting track after the failing to get Cory Joseph.

The Prediction:

Even though it will be Senior Night, coach Tubby Smith has been belting to the media all week in Minneapolis that he needs this team to step up. Even though it might be too late the for the Gophers, it is important for them to try and win in order to keep Smith in the Twin Cities. The rumors continue swirl around the nation about his whereabouts next season.

The only impressive win for the Wildcats was its victory over Illinois and that’s going to be it for Northwestern’s resume. Minnesota takes down the Wildcats on the road, which is something they rarely have done all season. Ralph Sampson III plays great and hits the 20 point mark while Hoffarber sees more time at off-guard than he has been lately.

Score: Minnesota 71, Northwestern 60