2020 begins with two entertaining Big Ten matchups tonight.
Game of the Night
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Purdue Boilermakers
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (BTN)
In a pivotal matchup tonight Minnesota will head to West Lafayette to face off against Purdue. Minnesota is in a rough spot because at 7-5 (1-1) there’s not as much room for error after the Gophers dropped a slew of close games in non-conference play. Even more so with Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State coming up after this weeks games against Purdue and Northwestern. Winning against Ohio State and Oklahoma State helped avert a complete disaster but Minnesota needs to find some consistency heading forward.
Minnesota already has a strong presence in the frontcourt with Daniel Oturu, who has averaged 18.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. Even more important is the Gophers have had much better performances from their backcourt as of late. Sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur went off against Oklahoma State with 34 points and has shot 12 of 21 from three in the last two wins. Marcus Carr has been key in several big wins for Minnesota as well, dropping 35 against Ohio State and 24 against Clemson. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that he was held to 2 points (on 1 of 10 shooting) in a loss at Iowa and had an equally poor day against DePaul. If Minnesota can get more consistency from Kalscheur and Carr heading into conference play then the Gophers will be a much more prominent threat the next two months.
The Boilermakers also have five losses, almost all being quality losses besides a road loss to Nebraska. Purdue also has wins against Virginia and VCU, a pretty KenPom ranking, and a pretty good resume if they can handle business in the Big Ten. Of course the problem with Purdue is they haven’t found a consistent answer on offense and their inconsistency has been detrimental at times this season. 17 points in the second half against Marquette. A three minute scoring drought when up 5 in the closing minutes against Texas. 2 points in overtime at Florida State. 21 points in a half against Butler.
The inconsistency on offense for Purdue means they’re also capable of dropping games, regardless of the opponent (look no further than the Nebraska loss). While the offense has been a mess, the defense has been outstanding. Allowing only 57.4 points per game (8th in the nation) and holding opponents to 38.8% shooting (27% from three), the Boilermaker defense is good enough to hang around with anyone. Unfortunately the team has had relatively inconsistent performances on offense from Jahaad Proctor and Eric Hunter Jr., while also dealing with the offensive limitations of Nojel Eastern and concussion issues with Matt Haarms. If the Boilermakers can have someone step up on offense it would go a long way, but for now Purdue has been decisively hit or miss all season long.
With Purdue set to face Minnesota at home the biggest tiebreaker here is the difficulty in playing at Mackey. Minnesota has seen their offense come alive and if their backcourt continues to produce then they’re fully capable of winning tonight. But if Purdue can control pace, flex their defense and let Mackey take over then they should be capable of winning here.
It could go either way so we’ll do the cliche thing and side with the home team. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is hard enough, especially when you have to head to West Lafayette.
Illinois Fighting Illini at #14 Michigan State Spartans
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (FS1)
The Illini had a surprising first two months and enter conference play at 9-4 (1-1). A win over Michigan helped cement their hot start, even more so when you realize they left a lot on the table with a one point loss at Maryland, two point loss to Miami and seven point loss to Missouri. Kofi Cockburn has had a strong start, averaging 16 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Ayo Dosunmu has continued his freshman success and is averaging 15.6 points per game, while Andres Feliz and Trent Frazier solidify a deep backcourt. Even a slight drop off from sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili hasn’t impacted Illinois much yet.
On the other side is a Michigan State team that has rolled since losing to Duke and seems to be building into the Spartan team people saw as a threat to win a national title. Cassius Winston has shown to be worth the hype with 17.6 points per game and the Spartans frontcourt has been stacked this year. Michigan State has cleaned things up a bit and in their last win only committed nine turnovers. If Michigan State can be less sloppy with the ball it’ll go a long way to helping them be the conferences top team.
Both teams are scoring 80+ points per game so there’s a high chance of some offensive fireworks. The Illini almost won at Marland and knocked off Michigan at home so they’re capable of beating the best of the best in the Big Ten. Will that success continue again tonight? There’s definitely a possibility but it’s hard to pick against Tom Izzo and a hot Michigan State team. Illinois has looked like a NCAA Tournament caliber team but they’re not Duke or Kentucky. If Michigan State can limit their turnovers then they should open up the decade with a win.
Pick: Michigan State