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2⁄3 Big Ten basketball preview: Northwestern at Minnesota

The Wildcats take on the Golden Gophers during Saturday’s slate.

Wisconsin v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Things are getting interesting at the top of the Big Ten, but there’s still games happening without Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Of the teams set to play on Saturday only Northwestern should be feeling okay about its NCAA Tournament resume. Yeah, the one that lost to Chicago State. Weird year.

Let’s talk hoop.

Northwestern Wildcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 2 p.m. on BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Wildcats by 1

This isn’t the lost season some foresaw for Ben Johnson’s Gophers but it hasn’t been ideal either.

What’s clear: There’s something to this team one way or another in spite of the recently-snapped four game losing streak. Dawson Garcia is having an All-Big Ten caliber year and Elijah Hawkins has one of the highest assist rates in the conference.

If you ask me, regardless of end result, Johnson probably deserves more time to get this right. He’s a program alum brought in for his first head coaching job and he clearly made some of the right moves this past offseason to take a step forward.

I’m sure Nebraska is grateful now that it didn’t pull the plug on the Fred Hoiberg experiment a few years ago. Different circumstances yeah, but I’m just saying.

On the other side, Northwestern is coming off a near-upset over Purdue that saw Chris Collins ejected in the closing seconds of overtime in a clip that instantly went viral. I could talk about the free throw discrepancy here but hundreds of people on Twitter already have you covered in that department.

Boo Buie is the best guard in the conference and he’s gotten more from his supporting cast as of late both against Purdue and in the win over Illinois.

The Cats could add to their already pretty good March Madness resume with a win in the Barn. Johnson could have another point for his case to return as coach next year, and you don’t want to go to The Barn.

  • Pick: Minnesota

Penn State Nittany Lions at Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 12 p.m. on FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Hoosiers by 4

If you’re a Big Ten team trying to build a resume this year there’s two teams you’d like to avoid losing to at all costs: Penn State and Rutgers, the league’s current sub-100 KenPom members.

Indiana already pulled off a loss to the latter with the small caveat of it being on the road in a rough environment. Another, at home, would probably mean the end of the season as far as March hopes (if any remain) go.

Worse, the Hoosiers lost starters point guard Xavier Johnson and forward Malik Reneau to injury against Iowa on Tuesday. Their status for future games remains to be seen.

Penn State is a guard-heavy unit in year one of the Mike Rhoades era in State College. You don’t want to let Kanye Clary and Ace Baldwin get going, and Indiana’s depleted backcourt could cause some issues.

The Hoosiers probably still have enough to pull this off.

  • Pick: Indiana

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 4 p.m. on BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Wolverines by 5

You don’t have to watch this. There’s other things to do, I promise.

Both of these teams are in rather extreme down years but only one has anything to look forward to in the immediate future. Scarlet Knight fans can just flip on some Ace Bailey or Dylan Harper highlights when things go south.

Michigan? Well... football?

Rutgers is a strange combination of high-level defense and inept offense that turns every game into a low-scoring affair. Michigan will have Dug McDaniel, since it’s a home game, so there’s something at least.

That might be enough too.

  • Pick: Michigan

Maryland Terrapins at Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 5:30 p.m. on FOX
  • KenPom Spread: Spartans by 8

This is the kind of matchup you’d have circled in the preseason. Two top-half teams with potential conference title implications on the line? Send it right to primetime on one of the big channels.

Both returned considerable talent, particularly in the backcourt, and had some intriguing freshmen pieces that could contribute.

But nope.

These two are at best on the tournament bubble. Neither has a truly impressive win and left the nonconference with losses to mid-majors on their resumes. Maryland had two.

Both have improved slightly as the season has gone on but you can only pick yourself up so much after falling that hard to open the season. Maryland’s struggles on the road are well documented and the Breslin Center is among the better environments in the league.

  • Pick: Michigan State