We all know that anything can happen in Big Ten basketball. For the last five years, that has been especially true when Indiana faces Minnesota, as it will Saturday night.
This matchup has spurred a series of upsets on both sides. The Hoosiers won only three conference games each in 2010 and 2011, but both times, one of those conference wins was against Minnesota. The 2010 victory led to a somewhat controversial court-storming by the IU students.
Likewise, after Cody Zeller helped turned Indiana into a power again, the Golden Gophers retaliated with unexpected wins over the Hoosiers in 2012 and 2013, with both coming at times in which IU was ranked in the Top 10.
Even in games in which the favored team won, it was a battle from start to finish. When the Hoosiers beat the Gophers in Assembly Hall last year, it was a back-and-forth affair in which IU dominated the first half before Minnesota stormed back in the second to make the game interesting.
This Saturday’s matchup is sure to be as unpredictable, as both teams come in with similar Big Ten records, albeit different types of momentum.
The Hoosiers are coming off a huge home win against 10th-ranked Michigan, but were also coming off a win over Wisconsin when they lost to Northwestern. Meanwhile, Minnesota has lost three in a row, including a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss at Purdue on Wednesday night.
However, it does have solid wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin, and they took current Big Ten leader Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing on Jan. 11.
Yogi Ferrell played arguably the best game of his IU career on Sunday, scoring 27 points and limiting Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nik Stauskas to just six in Indiana’s upset of the Wolverines. Defense was critical, as Ferrell and Noah Vonleh were the only Hoosiers to reach double figures.
That defense will have its hands full again Saturday.
Minnesota’s current leading scorer is Andre Hollins, who comes in averaging 15.1 points per game. However, he is coming off a recent ankle injury that forced him to miss two games. He scored eight points in the Gophers’ loss at Purdue.
DeAndre Mathieu averages 11.7 points per game and is the team’s leading three-point shooter, shooting .480 from beyond the arc.
With that said, expect to see much more offense in this game than in the Hoosiers’ matchup with Michigan. Ferrell and Mathieu are likely to get a lot of outside shots in this game, so the team that can score down low the most should win the game.
Last year, Zeller had trouble scoring down low at Minnesota, so Vonleh will have an important task on his hands. It will also help Indiana’s cause to spread the ball around and share the scoring burden, much like it did in its home win against Illinois.
Will Sheehey and Austin Etherington don’t need breakout games, but the more points they can score, the less pressure is on Ferrell and Vonleh.
This is a very important game for both teams—especially for Indiana’s NCAA tournament hopes. A loss to a 4-6 Minnesota team would once again deliver another hit to IU’s already fragile resume, not to mention damage its overall confidence.
Minnesota is not currently looking like an NCAA tournament team, but a win over Indiana would at least keep the Gophers in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten standings.
This game will be yet another battle from start to finish. There will be up-and-down spurts, much like there were when IU faced Nebraska and Michigan. In the end, Indiana should have the firepower and defense to pull away from this tough Minnesota team.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Minnesota 73