MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team is still in search of its first road win of the 2020-21 season as it heads to Indiana Wednesday night, and Richard Pitino does not yet know if he’ll have starting center Liam Robbins available.
Between foul trouble and a sprained ankle, Robbins had just two points and three rebounds in Sunday’s 72-59 loss at Maryland. Pitino said Tuesday morning, with the Gophers still in Maryland and waiting to fly to Indiana, that he does not yet have a good feel for Robbins’ status on Wednesday.
"I know he wants to play, so we’ll kind of evaluate it moving forward. Do what’s best for him, what’s best for the team, but I don’t have a great feel right now," Pitino said.
It could mean Robbins plays against the Hoosiers, but in a limited capacity. For the season, Robbins is second for the Gophers in scoring at 12.6 points per game, and leads the team in rebounding at 7.1 per game. He also leads the Big Ten with 2.6 blocks per game.
Robbins has started all 21 games this season, has twice been a National Player of the Week and is on the watch list for the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award, which goes at the end of the year to the top center in college basketball.
"It’s a sprained ankle, just see what the pain tolerance is and see how much he can go without hurting the team. He’s one of the best centers in the league, so we’re not better with him not on the court. We’ll see," Pitino said.
If Robbins can’t go or has to play limited minutes, it means bigger roles for Eric Curry, Brandon Johnson and Isaiah Ihnen. Johnson had five points and six rebounds in 24 minutes at Maryland. Ihnen scored a season-high 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 19 minutes.
The Gophers, who are 0-7 away from Williams Arena this season, have at least two more chances for that first road win. They’re at Indiana Wednesday night, and travel to Penn State on March 3. They could get a third road game if their originally postponed match-up at Nebraska gets rescheduled.
The Hoosiers are 5-4 at Assembly Hall this season. The Nittany Lions are 6-3 on their home court. Despite their road struggles, most national college basketball experts have the Gophers comfortably in the NCAA Tournament, with the Big Ten Tournament about two weeks away.
The Gophers can help themselves with an at-large bid, and a better seed, with a strong finish.
"We’re in the hunt for another NCAA Tournament berth with six new players in the middle of a pandemic. I told our guys think about all that we’ve gone through in order to put ourselves in a position to do this. That’s all you can ask for is to put yourself in a position to be there. We have done that," Pitino said.