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Minnesota needs to do more to be slotted as Big Ten favorite

Jan 2, 2013, 5:30 PM EDT

Trevor Mbakwe, Elliott Eliason

I’m not going to sit here, trying to tell you that No. 9 Minnesota’s win over No. 18 Michigan State wasn’t impressive.

Because it was.

Andre Hollins is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, Trevor Mbakwe is rounding back into the form that had him pegged as a potential All-American heading into the season and Tubby Smith has finally kept his talent around for long enough to build the Gophers into a real threat nationally. The win over the Spartans only confirmed what we all thought to be true about this group, and that 22-4 finishing kick was the kind of knock-out punch that us sportswriters love to build into well-written narratives.

But let’s keep everything here in perspective.

Minnesota is coming off of a season where they finished 5-13 in the Big Ten. Their 13-1 record isn’t exactly filled with cupcakes — they’ve now beaten six teams ranked in Kenpom’s top 100 — but Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, North Dakota State and Richmond aren’t destined for the Final Four. They commit too many turnovers and they don’t rebound the ball well enough on the defensive end of the floor.

In other words: yes, Minnesota is a good team. But before we go anointing them the new favorite in the Big Ten, can we wait to see them do more than beat Michigan State at home in a game they trailed by five with nine minutes left? I’m looking you, Jason King:

Indiana may still be considered the class of the league, but at this point, no team looks as capable of challenging the Hoosiers as Minnesota. Especially if Mbakwe plays like he did Monday.

What about Michigan? You know, the No. 2 team in the country? They only have a point guard in Trey Burke that’s playing like a National Player of the Year candidate and surround him with a trio of big, athletic and versatile wings. I’m still not convinced that Minnesota belongs above Ohio State. They only have the league’s best scorer, an all-american point guard of their own and a trio of role players — Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross — that could make the Buckeyes elite if they continue to develop.

Look, this isn’t meant to trash the Gophers. I think this group is really good and probably deserving of their top 10 ranking.

But we’ve been fooled by Minnesota before. We’ve seen them shoot up the rankings in the non-conference part of their schedule only to disappear in league play.

It’s going to take more than a home win over a team they are ranked higher than to convince me that Minnesota belongs in the same conversation as Indiana and Michigan.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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