Minnesota announced its schedule last week and I’m still in full dissection mode. Maybe it’s just me but I love when schedules are released. There’s so much to look at and predict, and when you’re still a few months away from the season beginning it’s all we really have besides recruiting news.
Last week I gave my initial three takeaways from the schedule reveal and offered my thoughts on the upcoming slate. Overall, I like the 2017-18 schedule Minnesota put together and believe it offers the Golden Gophers an opportunity to play some challenging games while also putting together another solid regular season record. It also helps that Minnesota will be a top tier team in this league.
Now that I’ve laid out my overall thoughts of the schedule, I’m ready to analyze the Golden Gophers’ most difficult games. I’ve picked the five games I believe are the most challenging and also most exciting to watch this year. Obviously this is pretty far out so things can change for each one of these opponents by the time they actually meet on the hardwood floor. So keep that in mind.
But with that here are the five toughest games on Minnesota’s schedule this year. I hope you enjoy and feel free to throw out your thoughts in the comment section below!
NOTE: The games are listed in chronological order by date and not by which is most difficult.
Alabama (Nov. 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
First on the list is a neutral site affair against Alabama. ROLL TIDE! The Crimson Tide are one of the teams that many people are excited about entering this year after head coach Avery Johnson landed a top five recruiting class.
This game cracks my list for a few reasons. One is that Alabama will feature plenty of young talent after landing three top 100 recruits, including the nation’s top point guard Collin Sexton. This game is also a neutral court tilt and is the second leg of back-to-back games on back-to-back days. As I mentioned, Alabama is young so playing them earlier in the season is better for Minnesota but this should still be a challenging game for the Golden Gophers.
Miami (Nov. 29)
Minnesota-Miami will be one of the top matchups in this year’s Big Ten-ACC Challenge with both expected to be ranked entering this tilt. Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has the Hurricanes at No. 11 in his early rankings, which is three spots ahead of Minnesota. So buckle up for a high-flying matchup.
Similar to the Golden Gophers, Miami returns six of its top eight scorers from last year and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class as well. The Hurricanes will contend for an ACC championship this season so even though this game is up at the Barn instead of on South Beach, it’ll still be a tough game for Richard Pitino’s bunch.
At Northwestern (Jan. 10)
Now we are into conference play, which will also feature its share of brutally tough games. That includes a road trip to Evanston to battle Northwestern.
This just might be the hardest game on the entire schedule. Minnesota beat Northwestern on the road last year but this will be an even better Wildcats team this year. Northwestern returns the core that led them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance, including their top five scorers. So both teams are talented and have strong upper classes.
This will also be a fun game to watch because of the individual matchup between Nate Mason and Bryant McIntosh. Both are Big Ten Player of the Year candidates and whoever gets more out of their leader will probably win this game.
Michigan State (Feb. 13)
So the good news for Minnesota is these teams only meet once and the Spartans have to come to Williams Arena. The bad news is this is possibly the best team Tom Izzo has ever had.
Michigan State has made a second home out of the Barn, holding an 8-2 record in the last 10 meetings in Minneapolis dating back to 2008. However, Minnesota was ranked only twice in those matchups so expect a better Golden Gophers team in this year’s matchup.
Playing at home will obviously make this a more winnable game for the Golden Gophers. However, it’ll still be very difficult to match up with the Spartans’ high level of talent. This will surely be a fun one to watch.
At Purdue (Feb. 25)
The Golden Gophers wrap up the regular season with another tough road game, this time at Purdue. The Boilermakers lost Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan but still return plenty to make them a tough draw. Especially when you head to Mackey Arena.
This is a veteran bunch that returns six of its seven leading scorers from a year ago — only departure is Swanigan. They still feature size with Isaac Haas in the post and plenty of shooting threats on the perimeter. This will be an all around tough matchup for the Golden Gophers and could serve as a defacto Big Ten championship game for either of these teams.