Minnesota is heading to the Big Ten Tournament at the perfect time. The Gophers have won eight of nine, knocking off Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland in that stretch. During the winning streak head coach Richard Pitino has gotten steady production from Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy.
Mason is averaging 15 points and 5 assists per game and Murphy has been a double-double threat in his sophomore season, averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds. Amir Coffey has been the icing on the cake for Minnesota. The freshman is averaging 12 points per game, the second leading scorer on the team.
With that said, let’s take a look at the potential conference tournament schedule for the Gophers.
With the Gophers finishing the regular season with a Big Ten record of 11-7 and the 4 seed, the team will play either #13 Penn State, #12 Nebraska or 5 seed Michigan State. Out of that group Minnesota fans would certainly be happy to see Penn State or Nebraska rather than Michigan State. Especially since the Gophers went 0-2 against the Spartans this season.
For the sake of previewing a matchup, let’s say Michigan State beats either Penn State or Nebraska cause that’s the most likely scenario. This game is a difficult one to predict. The Spartans haven’t found any consistency this season, partially due to the lack of healthy bodies.
My gut tells me to go Minnesota in this game as I don’t see Michigan State knocking off the Gophers for the third time this season. One key matchup to watch is Nick Ward vs. Reggie Lynch.
Ward averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds in the two contests against Minnesota this season. Lynch is the best rim protector in the Big Ten, averaging 3.5 blocks per game. Tom Izzo loves to run his offense through his big man and if Lynch can contain Ward I like the Gophers chances to move on.
If They Advance
Getting past Michigan State means most likely taking on the winner of Michigan and Purdue. Unless Illinois pulls off some March magic. I don’t see that happening, so lets disregard Illinois. Minnesota went 1-0 against Michigan and Purdue in the Big Ten regular season, with both being close games. Michigan and Purdue both present different challenges for the Gophers.
Michigan has two big guys that can step out and shoot it. Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson will bring shot blockers Reggie Lynch and Murphy out of the paint and leave the lane vulnerable for the Wolverine guards. Wagner and Wilson combined for 31 against Minnesota earlier this season.
Purdue also has two big guys. Very big guys. As we all know by now, Caleb Swanigan is the toughest matchup in the Big Ten. Issac Haas is just a ginormous man who causes problems on both ends of the floor.
If Minnesota is going to beat either Michigan or Purdue, the Gophers will need to stick to the same game plan that worked in the regular season. That game plan will be speeding their opponent up and causing as many turnovers as possible, which will allow the Gopher offense to get easy points in transition. The second part of the game plan will be limiting second chances by controlling the glass.
Although Minnesota is arguably the hottest team in the Big Ten at the moment, I still don’t like their chances of getting to the championship game. The Gophers have the toughest road to the championship game. Everyone knows Michigan State is always a tough out in March. If Minnesota gets by the Spartans, things don’t get any easier.
In a potential semifinal game, Michigan isn’t the greatest matchup for the Gophers. The Wolverines are a talented dangerous team that could get hot from the three-point line that could carry them all the way to the title game. And obviously we can’t forget about Purdue, the best team in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers will definitely be ready for a revenge game.