2020 has not been kind to me so far. I had to work on New Year’s Day and almost got stuck on the air at NBA Radio when the David Stern news broke. Today I’m trying to enjoy the Birmingham Bowl, but a lightning delay and Boston College being objectively terrible are making that difficult. Plus, my wife is working late and I don’t know when to start the fish. First-world problems, I know. But I live in a first-world country where most football teams outside of Chestnut Hill have an offense.
Don’t worry too much about me, though. I nailed my Rose Bowl pick thanks to a wonderful pass interference call and I’ve got the return of Big Ten basketball to look forward to tonight. In the first game, Minnesota takes on Purdue in West Lafayette. The Gophers were supposed to be near the bottom of the league this year, and they started out November with three losses in their first four games. However, lately they have looked like they belong in the NCAA Tournament with wins over Ohio State and Oklahoma State this month.
We knew that Daniel Oturu would be a force on the inside, but no one saw Pitt transfer Marcus Carr becoming one of the top point guards in the country. So far he’s averaging a ridiculous 7.2 assists per game to go with 14.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. In the big win over Ohio State, Carr scored 35 points on just 17 shots while adding seven assists. He seems like the real deal, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him score a triple-double or two in Big Ten play.
Gabe Kalscheur is someone that Richard Pitino really needed to develop in order to make noise this year, and the sophomore has found his scoring touch lately with 57 points in his last two games. Minnesota is riding all the momentum, and yet it is still getting 7.5 points against Purdue. The Boilermakers are still trying to find their way after losing Carsen Edwards to the NBA. They got a big win over Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but they also were trounced at Nebraska in an early Big Ten match-up. Purdue’s only other quality win is over VCU at the Emerald Coast Classic, which is apparently somewhere in Florida.
Scoring has been a bit of an issue for the Boilers, but part of that is because they play at one of the slowest tempos in the country. Jahaad Proctor, an experienced transfer from High Point, leads the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game, but he only scored four points in the team’s most recent win over Central Michigan. Matt Painter needs to get more out of his enormous center Matt Haarms and the powerful Trevion Williams. The latter weights 270 pounds and should be a force in the post. He’s starting to establish himself with double-doubles in three of his last four games.
Purdue has a chance to make a statement tonight, but I’m rolling with the red-hot Gophers to at least make it close.
The late game features Michigan State hosting a spicy Illinois team. The Illini announced their presence with authority when they upset Michigan last month, and freshman big man Kofi Cockburn was a major factor. The seven-foot Jamaican sensation had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks in the victory. Adding Cockburn up front to complement Illinois’s experienced backcourt should give the Illini a chance to return to the big dance for the first time since 2013. However, without a big non-conference win to speak of, they’ve got to make noise in the Big Ten. A win at Michigan State would qualify as “making noise.”
The Spartans, meanwhile have been outside the national spotlight since their loss to Duke at the beginning of December. They’ve munched on cupcakes since then and won their first two conference games against Rutgers and Northwestern. Michigan State hasn’t been the elite squad that we thought it would be, as it has blown it’s chances to make statements against Kentucky and the field of the Maui Invitational, but there are still chances for Tom Izzo’s squad to prove itself as a top team in college basketball.
With Cassius Winston expected to return tonight from a knee injury, I’m expecting the Spartans to fire on all cylinders and cover the 10-point spread at home.