Minnesota and Rutgers were among the many teams to take it on the chin during the conference’s poor showing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but both schools’ losses as a result were a small blip in the overall scheme of things for a pair of teams who entered undefeated. The 12th-ranked Golden Gophers and Scarlet Knights attempt to bounce back when they square off in Minneapolis on Sunday in the Big Ten opener for both squads.
After posting resume-building victories against one-loss teams Providence and Alabama earlier in November, No. 13 Miami (Fla.) brought an end to Minnesota’s first 7-0 start since 2008-09 in Wednesday’s 86-81 home defeat - one of the ACC’s 11 wins in the 14-game challenge. Jordan Murphy continued his early campaign for Big Ten Player of the Year honors with his Division I-leading eighth double-double in as many games, but the absence of Dupree McBrayer (right leg infection) was obvious to Gophers coach Richard Pitino. “Dupree’s injury took us out of the flow. … We just didn’t have great chemistry. … You’re used to playing with one lineup. And there’s just uncertainty where Dupree was at and the whole thing,” Pitino told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Rutgers entered Tuesday’s showdown of undefeated teams with Florida State defeating teams by an average of 26.7 points per game, but an 11-0 second-half run by the Seminoles proved critical in the Scarlet Knights’ 78-73 setback.
TV: 6 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT RUTGERS (6-1): Eugene Omoruyi (10.9 points) came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points Tuesday, while Corey Sanders (team-high 13 points per game) had 20 and Deshawn Freeman (11.4 points, team-high 8.9 rebounds) followed up his first double-double of the season with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. “Eugene has been awesome; he’s the most improved guy in our program. … He brings it every night,” second-year coach Steve Pikiell told reporters. Freshman guard Geo Baker (11.4 points) is Rutgers’ other double-digit scorer but has posted consecutive five-point games on a combined 3-of-16 from the field after going 7-for-10 from 3-point range en route to a career-high 29 in a Nov. 21 win over Bryant.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (7-1): McBrayer is questionable for Sunday and has “lost a lot of weight” according to Pitino; his absence Wednesday forced senior point guard Nate Mason to shooting guard and freshman Isaiah Washington - a former Rutgers recruit - into the starting lineup. “It was hard to coach. Nate’s better at the point and I couldn’t put Isaiah there at (shooting guard), because he doesn’t know the plays. We’ve got a little more time under our belt there, so we’ll be able to move some guys around,” Pitino said. Murphy (conference-leading marks of 21.4 points, 12.5 rebounds) has scored no fewer than 16 points in any game and is shooting 62.4 percent from the field while also averaging 1.6 blocks and 1.3 steals.
1. Gophers C Reggie Lynch leads Division I with 4.8 blocks per game. His 38 blocked shots are more than all but 40 Division I teams have entering Saturday.
2. Rutgers ranks second in the country in scoring defense (51.6 points), third in field-goal percentage defense (35) and fifth in rebounding margin (plus-13.3).
3. Dating back to a two-point, four-rebound effort at Illinois on Feb. 4, Murphy has recorded a double-double in 15 of his last 19 games.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 77, Rutgers 65