Considering that Rutgers and Minnesota went a combined 3-33 in conference play (with two of those wins coming against each other), it should come as no surprise that the Scarlet Knights and the Golden Gophers were the first two eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament.
What is a little surprising is how differently those two teams played in their losses.
#12 Illinois 85, #13 Minnesota 52
While Minnesota has been the far more competitive of the two (even earning an upset win over Maryland), the recent injury to Joey King along with the suspensions of Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer has turned the Golden Gophers into a junior varsity team, with the remaining players losing to Rutgers 75-52 to end the regular season.
It’s hard to have an uglier performance than losing by 20+ points to Rutgers, but the Golden Gophers somehow pulled it off on Wednesday when Illinois literally ran Minnesota off the floor on the way to an 85-52 Illini win. The 33-point scoring margin was more than twice as much as Illinois’ previous largest win of the season (16-point win over Rutgers).
For the Illini it was a great confidence booster for a team that has been mediocre at best this season. What was really encouraging was the three-point shooting as Illinois’ four main perimeter shooters Jalen Coleman-Lands, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn, and Michael Finke went a combined 12 for 20 (60%) from deep. This isn’t just some fluke either as those four players went a combined 9 for 14 (64.3%) went they upset Purdue 84-70 earlier in the season. If the Illini can continue to have those four players shoot above 50% from behind the arc, they’ll have a legit chance to advance on Thursday when they face a slumping Iowa team that has lost five of its last seven games.
#11 Nebraska 89, #14 Rutgers 72
After beating Minnesota to avoid going winless in Big Ten play, Rutgers seemed to have renewed confidence as they gave Nebraska a lot of trouble in the first half. There were 12 lead changes and every time it seemed Nebraska was going to pull away Rutgers had a response.
However, Nebraska’s extra possessions just became too much for the Scarlet Knights to overcome. The Cornhuskers forced 17 Rutgers’ turnovers which turned into 27 points. They also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds as Tim Miles’ team ended up with 14 more field goal attempts than Rutgers.
While Shavon Shields (20 points) and Andrew White III (16 points) did their usual offensive heavy lifting, the Cornhuskers also received huge contributions from role players Tai Webster (18 points) and Michael Jacobson (14 points). If Nebraska wants to have a shot at upsetting Wisconsin, it will need players like Webster and Jacobson to help Shields and White III on offense.
#9 Northwestern vs #8 Michigan – 12pm EST (BTN)
#12 Illinois vs #5 Iowa – 2:30pm EST (BTN)
#10 Penn State vs #7 Ohio State – 6:30pm EST (ESPN2)
#11 Nebraska vs #6 Wisconsin – 9pm EST (ESPN2)