The Big Ten Tournament officially kicks off today with an early evening double-header of bottom seeds Nebraska-Northwestern and Minnesota-Penn State. Winners will advance to take on Iowa and Ohio State tomorrow while the loser ends their 2021-2022 season and heads home.
Let’s take a look at the games.
-No. 13 Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-21, 4-16) vs. No. 12 Northwestern Wildcats (14-15, 7-13)
- Time/TV: 6:00 PM EST (Big Ten Network)
- TallySight Spread: Northwestern -5
The two schools that like to refer to themselves at “NU” open the tournament in what also marks the first meeting between the two programs in the Big Ten Tournament since Nebraska joined the league a decade ago. The Wildcats swept the Huskers 2-0 in the regular season, but the Huskers have all the big momentum coming into this one after three-straight road wins that included back-to-back wins over a ranked opponent for the first time in program history.
Pete Nance leads NU in scoring with 14.7 points per game, and also leads in rebounding (6.6 rpg) and blocks (1.2 bpg). Nance is also hitting 45 percent of shots from three-point range. Boo Buie is second in scoring with 14.1 ppg and Chase Audige adds 10.3 ppg. Buie is seventh in the Big Ten with 4.0 assists per game and is second in the Big Ten with 1.8 spg. Northwestern is coughing up just 9.8 turnovers per game, but gave up 11 in Lincoln and 12 in Evanston.
Against Nebraska, the Wildcats defeated the Huskers 87-63 in Lincoln on Feb. 5 and again 77-65 in Evanston on Feb. 22. In the first matchup, Just three players hit double figures with Buie leading the way with 27, Chase Audige adding 16, and Ryan Young added 12. Nance led NU with 20 points while three other Wildcats scored double figures on their home court.
For the Huskers, just two players average double figures in scoring led by freshman Bryce McGowens and his 17.2 ppg. Senior Alonzo Verge Jr. adds 14.2 ppg and leads the team in assists (5.3 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). Derrick Walker leads the team in rebounds (6.0 rpg) and blocks (0.9 bpg).
Against Northwestern on its homecourt, the Huskers had just two hit double figures in scoring led by C.J. Wilcher’s 15 points while McGowens added 10. In the rematch in Evanston, three players managed double figures with McGowens and Verge both posting 15 points and Kobe Webster adding 13. In the rematch at Northwestern, Nebraska actually won the rebound battle 35-31, including an 11-7 advantage on the offensive glass while dishing out 16 assists. 15 turnovers and 29.2 percent shooting from three-point range doomed the team, however.
It’s a tough feat to beat the same team three times in a season when both squads are close competitively. While neither game prior this season was within single digits at the final buzzer, this Nebraska squad has really found its groove down the final stretch of the regular season. That may be just what the Huskers need to extend the team’s season one more day.
- Pick: Nebraska
-No. 14 Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-16, 4-16) vs. No. 11 Penn State Nittany Lions (12-16, 7-13)
- Time/TV: 8:30 PM EST (Big Ten Network)
- TallySight Spread: Penn State -3.5
Speaking of teams who will be playing for the third time this season, the Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions will meet approximately thirty minutes after the opening game concludes. These teams split the series with the home squad winning each matchup. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this season among the Penn State roster, these games ended up just four days apart.
The Gophers won the first game on Feb. 12 in a close one, downing PSU 76-70 thanks to Eric Curry’s 22 points leading the way among four Gophers scoring double figures. Despite losing the rebounding battle 36-21 and going 48.3 percent from the field to Penn State’s 53.3 percent, Minnesota went 12-for-13 from the free throw line to PSU’s 4-for-7 to more than account for the six-point win.
In the rematch on Feb. 17, it was all Penn State in a 67-46 victory. Despite the lopsided score, just three Nittany Lions players scored in double figures, led by Jalen Pickett’s 20 points. PSU’s defense held Minnesota to just 36.8 percent shooting from three-point range and an even worse 32.1 percent from the field.
Despite losing its final three games of the regular season, Penn State did manage to outrebound Illinois and Rutgers 77-57 in the final two losses. The Nittany Lions held both to just 18 second chance points in the losses and PSU’s defense held the them to just 40 percent shooting from the field. If Minnesota hopes to have any chance in this one, the Gophers have to hit shots from the perimeter in a high percentage. This squad just hasn’t shown the ability to do so of late.
- Pick: Penn State