Okay, so we know one thing for sure: the Gophers can win big games at home. After sweeping a huge homestand against Michigan and Penn State, Minnesota sits at 4-3 in the conference and is in the postseason mix with the rest of the conference. Now, the schedule toughens and the Gophers go through something of a gauntlet for the next six games.
But seriously, if we’re looking at NET rankings, the next six games are all Quad 1 opportunities, which speaks to the strength of the Big Ten. Minnesota goes on the road to Rutgers and Ohio State, hosts Michigan State, goes to Illinois, hosts Wisconsin and then goes to Penn State, who just took down Ohio State. Simple right?
The gauntlet begins with Rutgers, who is on the path to the NCAA Tournament and sitting at 4-2 in the Big Ten. They are undefeated at home and have beaten the likes of Wisconsin, Seton Hall, Penn State and Indiana this year. The Gophers haven’t played great in Piscataway recently and will be challenged during a noon game to try to topple the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-2, 13-4)
Date and Time:
Sunday, Jan. 19 @ 12 p.m. CT
Tell me more about the opponent.
Rutgers is good, you guys. Especially at home. The Knights have been one of the most impressive teams in the country to date, amassing a 12-0 record at home en route to a 13-4 mark overall, including 4-2 in Big Ten play. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, including a convincing nine-point win over Indiana on Wednesday. They’re also beginning to receive AP Top 25 votes.
Rutgers is led by a pair of key scorers in Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, the latter of whom is back from an injury. But it’s Harper you need to worry about these days as he’s the type of the player who will beat you in multiple ways, get to the line, and be physical. He’s averaging nearly 12 points per game.
The Knights hang their hat on defense, and are one one of the nation’s top defensive teams, ranking sixth in field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They hold teams to 36.4 percent shooting and 58.8 points per game on average. The Gophers will need someone beyond Marcus Carr and Daniel Oturu to come to play if they want to walk away with a win in New Jersey.
It feels like the Gophers are rolling after great wins over Michigan and Penn State at home. Now the challenge becomes if they can take down a good team on the road, which they have yet to do this season. To be fair, no one in the Big Ten is winning on the road these days, but this game represents a huge opportunity for Minnesota to give itself a little breathing room as it looks to notch 10 wins on the season.
It’s a weekend matinee on the road, where the Gophers never play well. And Rutgers is good. I’m taking the Knights by five.