Big Ten Whiteboard: Ready for Minnesota-Michigan State rematch?
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Just two weeks into the conference season, and every Big Ten team has at least one league loss. And there are four teams atop the conference standings with 3-1 marks: Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin. Who could have envisioned the Golden Gophers and Cornhuskers being among the top four?
Expect more craziness this week.
Game of the week: Minnesota at Michigan State, Wednesday. This is a battle of first-place teams, as each is 3-1 in the Big Ten and tied with Purdue and Wisconsin for the top slot in the conference. There has been no bigger surprise early on this season than the Golden Gophers. Can they keep it rolling? In an odd scheduling twist, these teams are meeting a second time in less than a month. Minnesota played the Spartans on Dec. 27, with MSU taking a 75-74 OT win in Minneapolis.
Don’t overlook this game: Indiana at Maryland, Tuesday. The Hoosiers are the defending Big Ten champ that many felt would be in the thick of the league race again. Alas, IU is 11-5 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten with two conference defeats at home. The Terrapins were supposed to be in rebuilding mode after losing four key starters. But Melo Trimble has Maryland off to a 14-2 mark (2-1 Big Ten). Can the Hoosiers–3-4 in their last seven games–afford to suffer another loss? A Maryland win would give it even more mojo.
Must win: Northwestern at Rutgers, Thursday. If the Wildcats wants to breakthrough and earn the school’s first NCAA bid ever, they’ll probably need to win at Rutgers. Yes, the Scarlet Knights are 0-4 in the Big Ten (11-6 overall) and have won just three Big Ten games the last two seasons. But the Scarlet Knights are playing better under first-year coach Steve Pikiell and have a star in Corey Sanders. The Wildcats have one of their best teams in years, and are off to a 2-2 start coming off a big win at previously undefeated Nebraska on Sunday.
Best individual matchup: Peter Jok vs. Scottie Lindsey, Sunday. Jok is the most dynamic scorer in the Big Ten, pacing the conference with a 22.6 scoring average. The 6-6 senior is the only player in the league who averages more than 20 points, and he’s athletic enough to get a shot off in any situation. Lindsey, a 6-5 junior, is one of the Big Ten’s most improved players. He averaged 6.4 points last season but is at 15.6 this season. Lindsey can hit from outside and also put the ball on the floor, get to the hoop and draw fouls.
Upset alert: Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday. Yes, the winless Buckeyes may be a middle-of-the-pack (or worse?) team. And, yes, the Buckeyes have lost Keita Bates-Diop to a season-ending injury. Still, Ohio State has talent and athletic ability. And it also has a sense of urgency.
Big week: Minnesota. Richard Pitino’s crew has been a pleasant surprise coming off an 8-23 season (2-16 Big Ten). The Golden Gophers are in a four-way tie for first place as the week dawns, already surpassing last season’s Big Ten win total with a 15-2 record (3-1 Big Ten). Minnesota plays at Michigan State on Wednesday, and the Gophers travel to Penn State on Saturday. In a bizarre scheduling twist, Minnesota played the Spartans on Dec. 27, with MSU taking a 75-74 OT win. Now, they meet again. The Nittany Lions are a program on the rise under Pat Chambers. PSU is 10-7 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. Penn State closed last week with a big win vs. Michigan State in Philadelphia. Shep Garner is the leader, but this squad has a nice collection of freshmen led by Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr. If Minnesota wins both of these games, look out.
This week’s games
Indiana at Maryland
Minnesota at Michigan State
Michigan at Illinois
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Purdue at Iowa
Northwestern at Rutgers
Minnesota at Penn State
Nebraska at Michigan
Maryland at Illinois
Rutgers at Indiana
Michigan State at Ohio State
Iowa at Northwestern