The 2020 Big Ten Tournament gets under way on Wednesday night with the pseudo play-in games starting in Indy.
Let’s take a look at the two games taking place.
-No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats
- Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-9)
Northwestern suffered one of their tougher seasons in recent memory in 2020, and that’s saying something considering who we’re talking about. However, they’ve been able to turn things around in the last few games. They beat Nebraska to avoid the conference cellar, understandably lost to the conference champs in Wisconsin, and then pulled off the upset over Penn State on Senior Day.
This turnaround directly correlates with the improved play of Pete Nance. The sophomore forward had a rough go of things this conference season, struggling to find his role. In the past three or four weeks, Nance has been able to help the Wildcats, even when his shot isn’t necessarily falling. He’s averaging 9.4 ppg in their last seven games and has become the x-factor for the Wildcats.
The second half of the conference season has been disappointing for Minnesota. Since they beat Wisconsin on February 5th, Minnesota’s only victories have come against Nebraska and Northwestern.
The Gophers are led by Daniel Oturu who had a legitimate argument for First-Team All-Big Ten this year after averaging 20 ppg and 11 rpg. He’s been pretty much a lock for 15+ points every game this season, which makes things a lot easier on Richard Pitino. But what makes him so special relative to other big men nationally is his ability to stay on the floor. He’s averaging only 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes which allows him to play aggressively throughout the game.
Despite the trending in opposite directions, Minnesota would be my pick to come out on top of this one. In these teams’ two previous matchups, the aggregate score is 160-125 in favor of the Gophers. Northwestern has also had no answer for how to stop Oturu as he’s averaging 20.5 ppg and 14 rpg against the Wildcats. The winner of this game will play No. 5-seeded Iowa on Thursday.
-No. 11 Indiana Hoosiers vs No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Time/TV: Approximately 8:30 PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Indiana (-10)
Nebraska had a forgettable first season under Fred Hoiberg, finishing with the No. 14 seed as we enter tournament time. Things only got worse after Dachon Burke Jr. and Cam Mack were suspended indefinitely. This leaves the Huskers without their second and third-leading scorers, respectively. It also meant that Nebraska had only seven scholarship players in their 35-point loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
In response to this roster shortage, Hoiberg has called upon two football players to provide some fresh bodies if need be in the conference tournament. Second-string quarterback Noah Vedral and reserve offensive tackle Brant Banks now have quite the story to tell any future grandkids as they are now emergency additions to the basketball roster.
Meanwhile, Indiana finds itself on the bubble which is becoming a tradition at this point. Joe Lunardi has them in his “Last Four In” in his latest projections. The Hoosiers strength is how many different guys can be looked upon to score on any given night. Freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis is having a really good season despite being overlooked due to the bevy of big men in the Big Ten this season. Beyond Jackson-Davis, Indiana has five players averaging at least 6.8 ppg.
The winner of the game will take on No. 6-seed Penn State on Thursday. I expect Indiana to pull this one out to set up a rematch with the Nittany Lions, whom the Hoosiers have split against this season. Every game counts from here on out for Archie Miller, who’s coaching for his job at this point.