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Breaking down Minnesota’s 2016-17 Big Ten schedule

It won’t be easy for one of last year’s bottom dwellers.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Illinois vs Minnesota Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the conference schedule for Minnesota. After a disastrous record last year, the Gophers look make the uphill climb back to the middle of the pack.

'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Minnesota Schedule:

Coach: Richard Pitino (4th season)
2015-2016 Record: 8-23 (2-16 in the Big Ten)

Last Season

The record speaks for itself: 2-16 in conference play in a season that concluded with a 33-point thumping by Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. They did manage to upset #6 Maryland at home at the end of February, following that up with a win over Rutgers. But then the Scarlet Knights took one back for their only conference victory of the season.

The worst thing about their schedule? It was relatively middling. The Gophers only played 7 games against the top 6 teams in the league. When they did manage to keep the scores close, they couldn’t finish, going 1-5 in games decided by 6 points or less. It was dismal.

2016-2017

This year gets significantly more difficult. All that only playing Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland once goes right out the window. Pitino’s crew plays home and homes against the presumptive conference favorite (Wisconsin), an historic recruiting class (Sparty), and maybe the best overall player in the league (Maryland’s Melo Trimble).

On top of all that they twice tangle with a potentially fun and exciting Penn State squad and a rebuilding Ohio State with one of the best coaches in the league.

They take their show on the road to Illinois, Northwestern, and Rutgers, three schools in similarly desperate basketball straights who will be looking to use Minnesota’s arrival to boost their own resumes. Purdue on the road will be tall order to achieve a W.

The four remaining games at The Barn are intriguing. Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan all face significant question marks coming off tournament appearances. The Gophers kept all contests against that group close that year. Nebraska is potentially a win, another program undergoing some soul-searching.

Outlook

Realistically, no one is circling Minnesota on their schedule as a force to be reckoned with. But if Nate Mason can continue getting better, last year’s freshmen can make strides, and this year’s incoming class can show immediate impact, they might be able to improve.

No one is expecting a conference title, but if they can cobble together a few nice wins against a brutal schedule, Coach Pitino’s job might be safe for him to continue trying to rebuild a stagnant program.