The second game of the 2018 Big Ten tournament will begin at roughly 8 pm Eastern tonight after the Iowa and Illinois contest. It will feature the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The two teams have not seen one another since December when Minnesota ran away with the game’s result. However, that outcome is now slightly skewed due to the drastic changes in Minnesota’s roster.
They have lost two of the their top players to either injury or suspension on top of missing Eric Curry. Not only that, Dupree McBrayer has not been the same player as a leg injury has hobbled him almost all season.
Rutgers has not had any serious injuries this season, they just do not have the talent to stack up with other Big Ten teams. The Scarlet Knights only won three conference games all season and ended up going 13-15 overall.
Let us take a look at this game and what to expect.
1. Can Mason and Murphy carry Minnesota to a victory?
Since losing much of their core talent, a large burden has been placed on Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy. While they have done everything in their power to lead the Gophers towards success, the players around them have come up short every time. Their 4-14 record in the Big Ten reflects that as well.
For Mason, you have to expect him to leave it all out on the floor, regardless of outcome. This is his senior season and you just have to anticipate a, for lack of a better word, ballsy performance from Mason. While Murphy will be back next year, he has said publicly that he wants to send the seniors out right.
It will not be an easy path, but I have seen crazier things occur in college basketball. If the Gophers plan to pull off the unthinkable, they will need superstar performances from their two leaders. Both players have the ability to perform at that high of level, it is just a matter of if they can carry the team to victories.
2. Will Rutgers have enough offensive firepower?
Corey Sanders, Geo Baker, and Deshawn Freeman are the glue that holds Rutgers together. All three average in double figures and are the only players on the roster to do that. Their lack of supplementary resources has been the primary sticking point this season and it looks as though it will continue into the postseason.
The Scarlet Knights are also one of the worst shooting teams in the entire country. They only shoot 40 percent from the field and a paltry 28 percent from three-point range. If they are forced to take jump shots, they are almost thwarted before the game even begins.
It is hard to trust a team that has such an unreliable offense, and Rutgers has that. In order for them to win they will need to command the rebounding battle and push the basketball in transition. If they play a pace that favors Minnesota, their chances of moving on dwindle by the second.
3. Who has more momentum coming into this game?
Neither team comes into this game particularly hot. Rutgers enters the Big Ten tournament as probably the coldest team in the conference. The Scarlet Knights have lost 10 of their last 11 games which is absolutely dreadful. On the other hand, Minnesota has also lost 10 of their last 11 match-ups too. So it really is hard to determine who is coming in as the cooler team.
The Gophers have the more recent win, taking down Iowa last week. Rutgers has not won since their February 13th victory over Northwestern. So, Minnesota has a better chance to win this game. With their recent win over Iowa, the Gophers know they can defeat teams that are considered below them in the Big Ten. Rutgers is one of those teams. That is why I like the Gophers in this early round game.