The Gophers, currently 7-9 in the Big Ten and 18-11 overall, are playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament, licking their chops at the prospect of upsetting No. 16 Michigan on the road securing what would be a big addition to their resume.
“We obviously have been there so I know they are going to come in here with the mindset that it is a burn the boats type of idea,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Friday. “They have to come in and get wins and as a result we have to understand going into this game, we have to have the same mentality as Michigan State coming in here.
“We’re both really playing for something really big.”
For the Wolverines, fresh off a buzzer-beating win at Purdue, the opportunity is even greater. With a win Saturday at home against the Gophers Michigan would put themselves one win away from clinching at least a share of their first Big Ten regular season championship since 2012.
Though John Beilein has been reserved in his dialogue trying not to look too far ahead, sticking to the one game at a time mentality, the goal is clear.
“When you’re at a University that’s where you want to be,” Beilein said. “You want to be, as you get into March, you want to be in position for a league championship because a league championship usually means an NCAA berth and we all know anything can happen there.
“It’s a great step in the right direction and that’s the focus right now, win the Big Ten championship, that’s our only focus. At the same time through a roll of the ball last year we finished fifth in the league and still had a pretty good year so, while we focus on that, we still try to look at the big picture as well.”
Opening up conference play with a 63-60 win at Minnesota back on Jan. 2 that helped springboard Michigan to an 8-0 start in the Big Ten, the Wolverines were very fortunate to walk out of Williams Arena with the victory.
“In that game their pressure bothered us several times during the game,” Beilein said. “Of course we’re a more veteran backcourt now but they are as well.
“We couldn’t get away from them and they were in command a lot of the game. We made a lot of plays and Zak Irvin hit five three’s while Glenn Robinson sat on the bench. So, we were in good fortune in that game, to win it.”
Inside the Gophers aren’t scoring the ball at a tremendous clip but forward Joey King and center Elliott Eliason finish better than 45-percent of their offensive opportunities, Eliason leading Minnesota with 2.2 blocks per game defensively.
“Minnesota presents a lot of challenges,” Beilein said. “They change defenses, they get great pressure on the ball, they force turnovers, and they have really veteran guards.”
“I love the way their two big men have developed; the two big fellas. Joey King is playing really well for them right now as well and they just, they have a lot of experience and sitting right there with the opportunity to go to the NCAA tournament.
“I’m sure they’re going to bring everything they have.”