The World's Most Famous Arena may become a home away from home for Richard Pitino's Minnesota Golden Gophers. We last saw them there in April, polishing off SMU to win the 2014 NIT championship. Now, Little Ricky's crew return, aiming to use an NIT Season Tip-Off championship to polish their resume for that other big spring tournament.
Not that Pitino's worried about the likely importance of this trip. "I think if I were to talk about the importance of these games would imply that I don't think we're very good," Pitino told Fox Sports North. "Because why would I be talking about (the tournament) bubble right now when our expectations are very, very high?"
In other action, Purdue tries to slow a trigger-happy BYU team, Wisconsin gets underway in the Bahamas and a pair of Big Ten contenders set a collision course for likely speed bumps.
Game of the Day: Minnesota vs. St. John's at Madison Square Garden (7:00 PM, ESPNU or WatchESPN)
Facing St. John's at MSG is essentially a true road game, and this will be Minnesota's first of the season.
Turnovers have been as much a story in St. John's 3-0 start as they have been for Minnesota's 3-1 record. The Johnnies have given the ball away 30 times through three games, while Minnesota has forced 21.8 per game so far. The Gophers' last three opponents have each turned it over 23 times or more, with Pitino's men ripping at least 13 steals in each game.
That defensive pressure could wear down St. John's by game's end, as Red Storm coach Steve Lavin has primarily leaned on a six-man rotation. Minnesota has nine men averaging double-figure minutes, although one won't be making the trip to New York. Sophomore guard Daquein McNeil was suspended indefinitely after being arrested Tuesday on a felony domestic assault charge.
The loss of McNeil puts more pressure on starting guards Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu to stay out of foul trouble. Issues with officials reared their heads in the opener against Louisville and again in a disturbingly close game against Maryland-Baltimore County. Freshman Nate Mason is the only other guard seeing steady playing time.
Avoiding whistles may be harder than it sounds, however, as St. John's senior guard D'Angelo Harrison is an aggressive scorer who may try to force his way to the line if his shot isn't falling. 31 of his 55 points came in a win over Franklin Pierce, a game in which he attempted 16 free throws.
The Gophers can impose their will if they play a physical, inside-out game geared toward getting Red Storm rim protector Chris Obekpa in foul trouble. Aside from Obekpa, SJU's only player taller than 6'7" is freshman Amar Alibegovic, who's played all of four minutes. Making the foul shots will also help. Minnesota hasn't shot better than 61% from the line in any game yet this season.
Purdue vs. BYU at Maui Invitational (5:00 PM, ESPN2)
The fifth-place game in Maui pits two teams that unloaded some frustrations after tough opening-round defeats. Purdue put a stomping on Missouri after a terrible first half left it too far behind to rally against Kansas State. BYU carpet-bombed Chaminade into submission after suffering a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to San Diego State.
Purdue should consider this a very winnable game as long as it can contain the Cougars' array of perimeter bombers. Junior Chase Fischer, a transfer from Wake Forest, dropped 10 three-pointers against Chaminade, while potential all-time Cougar scoring king Tyler Haws rained in five against SDSU's always-frustrating defense.
The BYU frontcourt isn't loaded with depth or skill, so Boiler bigs A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas should be capable of imposing their will inside. The Cougars also aren't a fearsome defensive team. After all, they surrendered nearly 50-percent shooting to a San Diego State team that shot 24% against Cal State Bakersfield.
Wisconsin vs. UAB at Battle 4 Atlantis (7:00 PM, AXS TV)
Good luck finding this game. For all you Dish subscribers, AXS is on channel 167. The rest of you are on your own.
UAB is the token "good personality" hanging out with an array of supermodel programs at the Battle 4 Atlantis. This is a team that has started the season 2-2 with all games at home. The Blazers have lost to UL Monroe and South Florida, while beating Jackson State by only eight and Division II program Young Harris by a mere 13. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has handled its business well in the early going, smashing well-respected mid-major programs Green Bay and Boise State by 24 points each in the past week.
The only way the Badgers should win this thing by less than 30 is if the entire starting lineup contracts polio. Even then, the Badger bench could probably still win by 10.
To flesh out this preview, did you know that Young Harris has turned out such diverse alumni as country singers Trisha Yearwood and Ronnie Milsap, comedy legend Oliver Hardy, Baltimore Orioles star Nick Markakis, and actress Amanda Bearse, best known as annoying neighbor Marcy on "Married With Children"?
Campbell at Ohio State (7:00 PM, BTN)
This is the first ever meeting between the Buckeyes and the Camels, and little about Campbell's season so far suggests that the game should be close. In losses to Davidson and Colgate, Campbell has drained only 20% from the arc and 31% from the foul line (yes, THIRTY-ONE, that's no typo).
Sophomore guard Kyre' Hamer put up a double-double against Colgate, while "center" D.J. Mason (all 6'6" of him) leads the team with 15.3 PPG. 6'5" freshman Curtis Phillips leads the team with 21 rebounds through three games.
Meanwhile, OSU point guard Shannon Scott is leading the nation at 13.7 assists per game, freshman D'Angelo Russell is coming off a 32-point immolation of Sacred Heart and opponents are shooting less than 37% against the Buckeyes so far this season. This game should get even uglier than Wisconsin/UAB.
Bonus Stat: If Scott sustains that lofty assist average through this game, he'll pass David Lighty and Brian Brown for 10th place on OSU's all-time dime chart.
Northern Illinois at Iowa (8:30 PM, ESPN3)
NIU steps up in weight class after starting the season with wins over D-III Aurora and the University of Idaho. Bigs Jordan Threloff and Darrell Bowie have hit the glass well during the two games, and they'll get their opportunity to man up against Aaron White. Considering, however, that White blitzed Texas and Syracuse - two of the nation's stronger frontcourt units - for 38 points and 20 rebounds during the 2K Classic, he's still very much the Goliath in this matchup.
Iowa's ball movement is still a strength, even after the losses in New York. Monday's win over Pepperdine was the first time this season the Hawkeyes' assist percentage dipped down to 60. Shooting, however, has been inconsistent outside of Jarrod Uthoff. NIU held its first two opponents to 23% from the arc. Can it do that to the Hawkeyes? If so, this game could get a lot closer than anyone expects.
Northwestern vs. Northern Iowa at Cancun Challenge (9:30 PM, CBS Sports Net)
Look only at conference affiliation (Big Ten vs. Missouri Valley) and it appears Northwestern should be favored. However, Northern Iowa has a strong enough team to run the table in its non-conference schedule - one that includes games against Richmond, VCU and Iowa. An NCAA at-large bid for a second-place finish behind Wichita State is very possible.
Nine different Panthers have already had double-figure scoring games, and we're only five games into the season. The Wildcats have struggled to defend the three-pointer, a major reason that they escaped North Florida and Elon by one possession. The major key for Northwestern is for 7-footer Alex Olah and lunchpail man Sanjay Lumpkin to hold Panther star Seth Tuttle in check. Tuttle's effective and true shooting percentages were both in the neighborhood of 80% before the Panthers' win over Virginia Tech.
Northwestern winning this catfight would be an upset. It's an attainable upset, but Northern Iowa is damn good. Someone other than Lumpkin has to make shots - there's no one else on the Wildcat roster shooting above 50% on the season.