For a team considered by some to be a dark-horse pick to win the Big Ten, Minnesota likely couldn’t have asked for a better hand to be dealt in regards to its schedule. After winning their conference opener in impressive fashion over the weekend, the 15th-ranked Golden Gophers hit the road for the first of two times this week when they visit Nebraska.
Minnesota’s first 7-0 start since 2008-09 came to a halt in last Wednesday’s home loss to No. 11 Miami (Fla.), but the return of Dupree McBrayer (left leg infection) from his one-game absence helped galvanize the team in Saturday’s 89-67 rout of Rutgers. “Big Ten wins are hard to come by. … It was good to get back into that flow with Dupree in there. I thought we were better all-around defensively and more connected, and just felt more comfortable,” coach Richard Pitino said. After making quick work of the conference’s worst team a season ago in the Scarlet Knights, the Gophers travel to Lincoln to face a Cornhusker team which finished in a tie with Penn State for the second-worst conference mark in 2016-17. Nebraska missed 17 of its first 20 shots and never gave itself much of a chance in its Big Ten opener Sunday - an 86-57 defeat at No. 3 Michigan State.
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT MINNESOTA (8-1, 1-0 Big Ten): Guard Nate Mason (15.2 points) went 8-of-13 from the field Saturday and scored a season-high 26 points to give him 1,351 for his career, leaving him 41 points shy of cracking the school’s top 10 list in that category. Fellow senior Reggie Lynch (11.9 points, 8.6 rebounds), who leads the nation in blocks (43) and blocks per game (4.8), has swatted at least four shots in seven of nine games, including 12 total in his last two. Jordan Murphy (conference-leading marks of 21 points and 12.9 rebounds per game) endured his worst shooting performance of the season against Rutgers (3-for-13), but the junior forward still finished with 18 points and a season-high 16 rebounds for his NCAA-best ninth double-double.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (6-3, 0-1): The Cornhuskers went 10-of-22 beyond the arc and committed a season-low five turnovers in the opener against one of the best defensive teams in the country but negated those feats by shooting a season-low 27.4-percent from the field and getting outscored 32-8 in the paint. Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer Jr. (team-high 14.3 points), who was the only Nebraska player to reach double figures against the Spartans with 15 points, is one of four Cornhuskers averaging at least 10 points. Anton Gill and Evan Taylor have shot exceptionally from 3-point territory, as Gill ranks third in the conference in accuracy (56.3), while Taylor (9-for-12) would be tied for first in the country if he had enough attempts to qualify.
1. Lynch needs eight more blocks to tie Joel Przybilla (165) for fifth place in school history. At his current rate this season, Lynch will need 16 games to break Kevin McHale’s school record of 235.
2. Nebraska finished 7-for-40 inside the arc against Michigan State on Saturday.
3. The Gophers rank first in the Big Ten in scoring offense (89.4), topping 80 points in all but one contest.
PREDICTION: Minnesota 83, Nebraska 72