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NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Minnesota David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten play is back and the league is wide open this season. As we step back into conference play 12 of the 14 teams are 1-1 in the league. That shows incredible balance, even though Purdue’s loss came at the hands of an awful Nebraska team. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, and Iowa are all currently in the AP top 25, while Purdue has spent time there, Indiana is receiving votes, and teams like Rutgers, Wisconsin and Illinois are dangerous. As we learned in Lincoln, there are no easy games this year, because that was supposed to be as easy as they come.

Purdue’s schedule ramps up in a hurry here. After getting a Minnesota team that had our number in 2018-19 we go to Illinois, to Michigan, host Michigan State, and go to Maryland. These next five games are make or break for a 25th Big Ten championship, and Purdue likely needs to go 3-2 or better to have any chance in the league.

That means not slipping up at home against Minnesota.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

From: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Game Location: Mackey Arena (14,240)

Date: January 2, 2020

Time: 7pm ET

TV: BTN

Radio: Boilermaker Sports Network

Odds: Purdue by 7.5

NET: 28

KenPom: 42

2018-19 Record: 22-14, 9-11 Big Ten (lost to Michigan State 70-50 in NCAA Second Round

2019-20 Record: 7-5, 1-1 Big Ten

Record vs. Purdue: Purdue leads 104-85

Last Purdue win: 73-63 at Purdue on 1/3/2019

Last Minnesota win: 75-73 in Big Ten Tournament on 3/15/2019

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

NCAA Tournament History: 14 appearances, last in 2019. Reached 1997 Final Four (vacated)

Coach: Richard Pitino (119-97 in 7th season at Minnesota, 137-111 overall)

Purdue lost 10 games last season, but the only team to beat us twice was Minnesota. They nearly ruined our Big Ten regular season title dreams with a 73-69 win up in Minneapolis, then they knocked us off again 10 days later in the Big Ten Tournament. Those two victories propelled the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Louisville by 10 before losing to Michigan State. At one point they lost six out of seven games, but the two wins over Purdue were enough to get them in.

This year they are very similar to Purdue in that they have played a tough schedule and have struggled against good opponents. They lost by 20 at Iowa in the early Big Ten games but beat a very good Ohio State team by 13 in Minneapolis. Out of conference they lost to DePaul, Butler, Oklahoma, and Utah. None of those are even close to being a bad loss. In another common opponent they have a 25-point win over Central Michigan. Their best win by far is Ohio State.

Daniel Oturu has been playing one of the best players in the Big Ten so far. The 6’10” sophomore is averaging 18.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. He is second in the conference in scoring and first in rebounding. He did a lot of damage against Purdue last season with a 13 and 10 in the Big Ten Tournament game, but he barely played in the win in Indianapolis. He had a 19 and 9 in the game in West Lafayette.

Marcus Carr is second on the team at 14.8 points and 7.2 assists per game, and that gives me flashbacks to Minnesota’s 2017 win in West Lafayette. In that game Nate Mason, a similar player, exploded for 31 points and 11 assists as one of the best efforts by a visiting player of the last 20 years. Gabe Kalscheur has been great in the backcourt with him at 14.1 points per game. Payton Willis is also averaging 11 points per game, giving them great balance.

Outside of those four the only player averaging better than five points per game is Alihan Demir at 7.8 points per game. This is a short rotation team with only eight regulars logging minutes.

Minnesota is in the middle of the conference in almost every statistical category. They don’t particularly excel at anyone one aspect, but they also aren’t terrible at any one spot. They are second in blocked shots per game at 5.3 per game, which given Purdue’s struggles at the rim is a concern. They are last in turnover margin, however.

This is going to be a tough game, like all games in conference will be. We can take nothing for granted, as we learned against Nebraska. The biggest difference is that we are at home. Playing in Mackey is always a boost, and the Boilers looked significantly better on Saturday after three weeks away.

The bottom line is that we must defend home court. Purdue should still be an NCAA Tournament team, but if it starts dropping home games that will change in a hurry. Just get a win here, because Minnesota might be a better team than Texas.