The Big Ten had two games on Tuesday and both had serious NCAA Tournament implications. Michigan went on the road to face Rutgers and Minnesota hosted Illinois in a matchup between two red hot squads.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-Illinois Fighting Illini 76, Minnesota Golden Gophers 53
On paper, this projected to be a close game between two red hot squads. Despite some early struggles, Illinois had found its feet over the last few weeks and entered Tuesday’s game having won seven of its last eight, including four against top 100 teams. And Minnesota sat at 10-1 overall, having only lost against Michigan State in a competitive game.
It felt like an early showdown between quality teams.
Unfortunately for Gopher fans, that wouldn’t be the case.
Illinois came out firing on Tuesday and really never looked back. The team jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half and eventually won by 23 points on the road against the Gophers. And Kofi Cockburn was particularly impressive, finishing with 29 points and 10 rebounds. Simply put, Minnesota lacked the size to compete with Cockburn. Jacob Grandison also had a good showing with 11 points, six rebounds, and four assists.
With the win, Illinois improved to 10-3 overall, 3-0 in Big Ten play, and pushed itself squarely into the Big Ten title conversation. It’s hard to feel too confident Illinois will be in the hunt until it plays one of the league’s top teams, but it’s also hard to argue with 3-0. The showdown with Purdue in a few weeks is looking even more intriguing.
On the other side, Minnesota fell to 10-2 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play with the loss. Obviously, Tuesday’s result will be a disappointing one for the team and fans. It felt like Minnesota was getting close to elevating to the next level, but fell squarely on its face. Fortunately, it’s still early and the team’s resume still looks solid.
Illinois will now prepare for a game against Maryland at home on Thursday. Meanwhile, Minnesota gets Indiana on the road on Sunday.
-Rutgers Scarlet Knights 75, Michigan Wolverines 67
This was a hard game to read heading into tip. Rutgers has won two in a row, but both wins came against underwhelming competition. Meanwhile, Michigan had shown some encouraging signs in December, but fell flat against UCF to close the year. It felt like a great opportunity for both sides to grab a quality win.
However, that changed moments before tip:
Know there’s been a lot of questions about the status of tonight’s Michigan-Rutgers game. It my understanding Michigan will be extremely short handed— w/o Terrence Williams, Frankie Collins and Brandon Johns, while Zeb Jackson did not make the trip (unrelated to covid).— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn) January 4, 2022
Michigan still had enough players to compete for segments, but Rutgers jumped out to an early lead and was never really in danger to drop the game. Geo Baker and Ron Harper combined for 47 points in the performance, with most of their production coming from deep. In fact, Rutgers finished 11-for-23 (.478) from three-point range. All told, Rutgers grabbed a 75-67 win over the Wolverines.
Rutgers improved to 8-5 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play with the win, while Michigan fell to 7-6 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play with the loss. For Rutgers, this sets up a potential great January, with seven winnable games sitting on the docket, beginning with Nebraska at home on Saturday. Conversely, the loss puts a lot of pressure on Michigan, who’s resume is already pretty underwhelming. The Wolverines will hope to bounce back against Michigan State on Saturday.