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When will the Minnesota Golden Gophers Win a Conference Game?

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Minnesota played Michigan and lost again. When will Minnesota win a Big Ten game?

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I have resisted writing this article. After all, who wants to read speculation about when a team will win its first conference game? At 0-7 in conference play, it's time to address the elephant in the room for the current Gopher season. Minnesota has lost each conference game and it's lost them all by an average of nearly 15 points. Against Nebraska and Northwestern, not exactly the class of the conference, Minnesota was beat by 25 in each game.

Therefore, I'll pose the question: When will Minnesota win its first Big Ten game? Or maybe I should ask this question: Will Minnesota win a conference game this season?

Of course any team can beat any other team on any given night. So it's entirely possible that Minnesota could upset someone. But for our purposes, let's eliminate the following teams from their remaining schedule: Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa and Maryland and Northwestern. Unless the Gophers get hot from the field and/or play better defensively, they're not beating any of those teams. That leaves Rutgers (two games), Illinois (two games) and Wisconsin (one game) as the most winnable.

March 2 vs. Wisconsin

Wisconsin has been struggling, but recently upset Michigan State. Minnesota matches up pretty well against the Badgers. Someone will need to guard Nigel Hayes, but size-wise, Wisconsin isn't huge. If Minnesota can guard the perimeter against Wisconsin, they will be competitive in the game. Hayes will get his points against a young Gopher frontcourt, but the Badgers aren't terribly explosive offensively beyond Hayes and Bronson Koenig. At home, Minnesota should be able to stick around.

January 23 vs. Illinois, February 28 @ Illinois

The Fighting Illini haven't won many games, but they have talented veterans, which is more than Minnesota can say at this point. Obviously, Carlos Morris and Joey King have experience, but they're both coming off the bench now.

Plus Illinois could be reeling after getting blown out by Indiana; they may be ripe for Minnesota. Against Illinois, the issue is Minnesota's perimeter defense. Illinois doesn't have the size to exploit the Gophers on the boards, but the Illini can shoot. The Gophers haven't exactly been defensively stingy on the perimeter.

February 23 vs. Rutgers, March 5 @ Rutgers

Rutgers, like Minnesota, hasn't won a conference game yet (0-6). But at least Minnesota's been relatively competitive (at times) in comparison to the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has been an abomination in 2016 and have lost six Big Ten games by an average of 27 points, including a 50-point loss to Purdue most recently. Minnesota should beat Rutgers at least once and if we're being honest, probably both times.

Overall

Identifying Wisconsin, Illinois and Rutgers as Minnesota's most winnable remaining conference games doesn't take a genius as those four teams are at the bottom of the Big Ten right now with a a combined conference record of 3-22. But, it's a pretty startling realization that getting even two conference wins is a stretch this season. If Illinois prevails on January 23, Minnesota may not win until it meets Rutgers on February 23. At that point, the Gophers would be 0-14 in the Big Ten, and it may actually be a meeting between two winless teams in conference play.

So there you have it: Minnesota will probably get its first conference win against Rutgers on February 23. Let's start counting the days.