On Jan. 9, after the Gophers beat then-No. 12 Illinois on the road, there were few doubters that wouldn’t place Minnesota as one of the top three teams in the conference.
Even after the loss to Indiana at Assembly Hall, writers and fans alike still casted Minnesota as a top team.
Two weeks and three losses later, the Gophers are on a slide down the conference standings. With a 3-4 conference record, Minnesota is in the bottom-half of the standings, currently sitting at seventh place in the Big Ten.
Purdue may currently be in sixth place in the conference (their 3-3 record places them above the Gophers) — and with no four win teams in the conference, this is cause for panic for Tubby Smith who had already used the word “desperate” before the Wisconsin game.
The top five teams in the conference (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively) all have at least five wins and no more than two losses.
Even the Spartans, who were defeated soundly by the Gophers a few weeks ago, have six wins. They nearly pulled off an upset of Indiana on Saturday — but Michigan State has improved since the first week of the new year.
The immediate future will play favorably for the Gophers as they will play at home four out of the next five games. In contrast, the Wisconsin game ended a stretch of four road match ups in five games.
With Nebraska and Iowa next on the Gophers’ schedule, a loss at home against any of those two teams would likely launch Gopher Nation into a full scale panic if the loss to Wisconsin has not already.
The Gophers are quickly looking like the team from last year, that finished with a 6-12 conference record after starting off 15-1 before they hit the wall known as conference play.
Much is at stake for the team — a final shot at the NCAA Tournament for seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams would be much desired.
A tournament appearance was almost a lock for the Gophers just a few weeks ago, but Minnesota is quickly falling off the map and Monday’s AP Rankings will show tangibly how far the Gophers have fallen since being ranked No. 8 a month ago.
Turn things around in the next two games and maybe Mbakwe won’t need to pay back his scholarship (like he said he would) and Coach Smith won’t be shunned by fans calling for his firing.