The 22nd ranked Ohio State Buckeyes took care of business at Madison Square Garden this early afternoon. With a 67-49 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, they remained tied with Purdue atop the Big Ten leader board. Both squads now have perfect 8-0 records heading into the February stretch run. While Ohio State and Purdue will both make the NCAA Tournament, it is now a matter of who will capture the conference crown.
Each of the two leaders now head into a slate of games that could trip them up in their Big Ten perfection. However, the ultimate test of who is better will be their February 7th date in West Lafayette.
For Minnesota, this is their second loss in a week that featured three games. Today’s game was considered to be a home game for the Gophers. However, the Big Ten scheduled it as a neutral site game at Madison Square Garden. Richard Pitino was not pleased which should come as no surprise.
What We Learned
1. Yes, Keita Bates-Diop is the current Big Ten Player of the Year
In my opinion, it was a decision between Diop and Jordan Murphy for the individual honor. Today was the prefect to time to determine who is the leader in the clubhouse as February approaches. Unfortunately, Murphy’s game was marred by a brief injury scare in the second half. He turned in a 13 point and five rebound effort. Although the junior shot a nice 45 percent, it was below his season average of 52 percent.
Bates-Diop turned in another fine performance, far more impressive than Murphy’s. His 17 points and 12 rebounds led the Buckeyes to a dominant win in a game that was fairly ugly offensively otherwise. The only negative to Bates-Diop’s performance today was his 33 percent field goal percentage. This is well below his season average of 51 percent.
Regardless, Bates-Diop proved himself to be the more valuable Big Ten player today. While Murphy was wildly impressive early on, he has tapered off to a degree as the Gophers have began to struggle. On the other hand, Bates-Diop has been a consistent force all season. It may have been up for debate coming into today, but no longer, Keita Bates-Diop is the current Big Ten Player of the Year.
2. Amir Coffey is back sooner than expected
It came as a surprise to Gopher fans to hear that Coffey was active for today’s game. His odd shoulder injury seemed to have made progress faster than usual. Which may illustrate that the ailment was not as severe as originally indicated. That is by no means an expert medical opinion, but that seems to be the case.
In his return to the floor, the sophomore scored 11 points and grabbed three rebounds. On top of that, he shot a very efficient 56 percent from the field. Unfortunately, the rest of team did not shoot as well as Coffey. Overall, the Gophers shot only 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from the three. Couple that with 15 turnovers, and Minnesota was seemingly doomed.
Never the less, it has to be nice to have Coffey back on the floor. Especially considering how Minnesota has struggled without him. One hopes it is not too late with a 3-6 conference mark as it stands.
3. Ohio State will challenge Purdue for the conference’s automatic bid
It is just so interesting to see how underappreciated the Buckeyes have been this season. No one really considered the Buckeyes to be a true contender in the league. Sure, they had some good pieces, but they also have a first-year head coach. That can throw a wrench into the production of any team. However, the Buckeyes have not skipped a beat in development.
Now, they are in prime striking distance of Purdue for the conference title. The two do not meet until the beginning of February, but that match-up has to be marked on their calendar already. In the meantime, Ohio State has some potential trap games against Nebraska and Indiana. Obviously, those games may be deflating if they are lost, but I cannot foresee either team losing until their date on February 7th.
That monumental match-up may ultimately decide who gets the Big Ten’s regular season championship. However, the Buckeyes could come out on top of the Big Ten Tournament as well.
All in all, this was a relatively ugly game, mainly for the Gophers. Scoring only 49 points on 38 percent shooting is not encouraging. As for Ohio State, they struggled shooting from long range throughout the afternoon. Give credit to the Buckeyes defense though, turning the Gophers over 15 times over the course of the game.
Ohio State now sets their sights on Nebraska on Monday, a game that will be a difficult one. As for the Gophers, they meet Northwestern on Tuesday, looking to get going in the right direction after dropping two straight Big Ten games.