Minnesota (13-2, 1-1) at Northwestern (12-3, 1-1)
When: Thursday, January 5th 2017
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, IL
Time: 9:00 ET | TV: ESPNU
Two rising Big Ten programs meet Thursday night as the Northwestern Wildcats host the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats nine game winning streak was snapped last week with a 61-52 loss at Michigan State after a conference-opening 87-77 win at Penn State. This will be Northwestern’s first conference home game this season where they have won 13 in a row overall. Scottie Lindsey (15.7 points, 35 3-pointers) and Vic Law (13.7 points, 28 3-pointers) each shoot better than 42% percent from beyond the arc and are the leaders on offense. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh runs the offense, averaging 5.6 assists to go with his 11.7 points. McIntosh comes into the game 17 points away from 1,000 for his career and five assists short of second place on the Wildcats’ all-time list. The Wildcats’ frontcourt will get a boost with the expected return of sophomore center Dererk Pardon after he missed eight games with a wrist injury. Pardon started the first seven games of the season, averaging 6.9 points and 7.0 rebounds. He’ll be able to provide depth with fellow big men Gavin Skelly and Barret Benson, who have been dealing with foul trouble. Northwestern will go right back on the road after this contest to face Nebraska and Rutgers – that will make four of their first five Big Ten games on the road.
Minnesota also comes in looking to get over the .500 mark in conference play after splitting two overtime games. After a heartbreaking 75-74 home loss to Michigan State, the Gophers rebounded with an upset win a Purdue on New Year’s Day, marking their first Big Ten road win since the 2014-15 season. Defense has been the key for the Gophers team coached by Richard Pitino, ranking second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.379) through Tuesday’s games. Guard Nate Mason (14.7 points) leads a balanced scoring attack, which features four players averaging in double figures and seven scoring at least 6.7 points per game. Mason is averaging 24.5 points and 7.5 assists in Big Ten play and is coming off a 31-point, 11-assist effort against Purdue that marked the first time in school history a player finished with better than 30 points and 10 assists in a game. The Golden Gophers lead the Big Ten and are tied for seventh nationally with 6.5 blocks a game, led by Lynch’s conference-leading 3.4 per game. Minnesota will host Ohio State on Sunday.
Both of these squads should be Tournament teams come March and one of them might even compete for the Big Ten title. I like the way both are playing, but I have to give the edge to the Wildcats at home. It should be a tight game with the Wildcats hitting their free throws late to pull away.
Pick: Northwestern -3.5