The Big Ten tournament begins Wednesday night with a matchup between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Northwestern Wildcats at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Minnesota comes into the game as the 12th seed in the tournament, having finished with an 8-12 mark in conference play and a 14-16 overall record.
Northwestern is the 13th seed in the tournament, having won just eight games all season, including only two conference contests. But, the Wildcats come in having won two of their last three, including a win over then-No. 20 Penn State over the weekend, Northwestern’s first win over a ranked opponent since February of 2018.
Minnesota is an eight-point favorite in this opening-round game, with the over/under set at 136.
The Golden Gophers’ struggles as a team this season have been despite the outstanding play of 6-10 sophomore center Daniel Oturu, who averaged 20.0 points to rank second in the Big Ten this season. Oturu also led the conference in rebounding with 11.4 per game, field-goal percentage at .562, and blocked shots with 2.5.
Guard Marcus Carr has been a solid second scorer for coach Richard Pitino, averaging 15.5 points to go with 6.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. Carr is eighth in the country in assists per game and leads the Big Ten in minutes per game with 37.0.
Gabe Kalscheur is one of the top three-point shooters in the country, leading the conference in three-pointers made per game (2.5) and ranking seventh in three-point field-goal percentage (.349). So why is Minnesota playing on the first day of the tournament? The Golden Gophers rank 13th in the league in turnover margin at minus-0.7.
Starting To Surge
Northwestern has struggled all season long but seems to have found something, scoring over 80 points in two of its last three games, both victories. On the season, the Wildcats are last in the Big Ten in scoring at 65.2 points per game and rank 13th in field-goal percentage at .416.
But the Wildcats can get hot, as they did in the upset of Penn State, matching a season high with 11 three-pointers. Miller Kopp had a career high with five of those threes, finishing with 21 points to lead the offensive charge. Kopp leads the Wildcats with 13.2 points per game and 65 three-pointers.
Another player that can get hot for coach Chris Collins is guard Boo Buie, who is second on the team with 10.5 points per game and 30 three-pointers. The freshman can run hot and cold, going for 26 and 25 points in back-to-back games against Michigan State and DePaul, respectively, but scoring in single digits in 12 of his 25 appearances this season.
Gophers Power To Win
The Golden Gophers swept both games these two teams played this season, winning by nine in Minneapolis and 26 in Evanston. Oturu dominated, averaging 20.5 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in the two Minnesota wins. Look for more of the same in this one, as Northwestern just doesn’t have anyone that can shut down the big man. I’m taking Minnesota -8 to advance to the next round.