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Oftentimes, Friday night slates during conference season don’t feature the cream-of-the-crop teams forced to battle each other in marquee matchups; however, we have two Big Ten games that should be quite entertaining.
Even though these teams are not necessarily title contenders, these games feature one of the fastest teams in America (Iowa) and one of the best center prospects in the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft (Kel’el Ware.) The breakdown of our best college basketball picks today for the Minnesota vs. Indiana and Nebraska vs. Iowa games is below!
Date: Friday, January 12
Time: 6:30 pm EST
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is tough and often separates the middle-of-the-road teams that might squeak into the NCAA Tournament from the true championship contenders. Even the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers are 3-2 in their first five Big Ten games and almost dropped another to the No. 10 Illinois Fighting Illini at home after coughing up a 21-point lead.
If you need any evidence of this beyond just Purdue’s early Big Ten season struggles, check out the total record of these teams at home. Home teams are 21-8 in Big Ten inner-conference play so far this season, and the top seven teams are 15-0. For this matchup, the Indiana Hoosiers hope to move to 4-2 in the Big Ten, with a 3-0 Big Ten home record with a win against Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers have been a huge surprise thus far in the 2023-24 regular season, boasting a 12-3 overall record and winning seven straight games after a road loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 3. The media poll picked Minnesota to finish dead last in the preseason in the Big Ten. While there is a lot of basketball left to be played, the Golden Gophers are one of the surprise teams in the conference this season.
Minnesota’s roster overhaul and performance from last season were huge factors in this team’s projections. The Golden Gophers finished the 2022-23 campaign with a 2-17 record in the Big Ten and lost their second and third-leading scorers, Jamison Battle and Ta’Lon Cooper, to the transfer portal.
However, they returned their best player, Dawson Garcia, as well as Pharrel Payne, Joshua Ola-Joseph, and Braeden Carrington. Freshman four-star guard Cam Christie (the younger brother of Lakers guard Max) and Pepperdine transfer Mike Mitchell Jr. have filled in the gaps fairly well.
Meanwhile, Indiana lost its superstar senior forward, Trayce Jackson-Davis, to the NBA Draft last year. The Hoosiers were able to return sixth-year senior guard Xavier Johnson, Swiss Army Knife guard Trey Galloway, and former five-star forward Malik Reneau.
Unfortunately, the losses of TJD, Race Thompson, Miller Kopp, and Jalen Hood-Schifino have caused this team to struggle quite a bit despite bringing in likely first-round pick Kel’el Ware in the transfer portal and five-star freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako.
Indiana’s horrendous outing on the road against Rutgers is concerning; it turned the ball over 18 times and shot 4-for-15 from the free-throw line. Can the Hoosiers snap out of this funk and play well enough to beat Minnesota and cover the spread?
Since the beginning of the 2021-22 season, which was nearly two and a half seasons ago, the Hoosiers hold a 37-7 record at Assembly Hall; they scarcely lose in front of their fans. This Minnesota team has been the beneficiary of one of the easiest starts to Big Ten play of any team, winning against Michigan (6-10 overall) on the road, Nebraska (ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten’s preseason media poll) at home, and Maryland (10-6 overall, 2-3 in Big Ten play) at home.
This will be one of the toughest games that Minnesota has played all season, not because of IU’s talent but because of the environment and the fact that the Golden Gophers have had the 14th-easiest schedule in the nation, per KenPom’s strength of schedule rating.
Minnesota is a solid defensive rebounding team but ranks 339th in unadjusted defensive efficiency in road games. That’s a major concern when an opponent, especially one that sportsbooks might overvalue at the moment, is about to enter Assembly Hall.
Date: Friday, January 12
Time: 9:30 pm EST
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings Sportsbook to place your bets.
Nebraska has had an exceptional start to this season, holding a 13-3 overall record with wins over No. 1 Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State. Much like Minnesota, the expectations for the Cornhuskers coming into the season were not high; the media poll projected them to finish 12th out of 14 teams.
The keys for Nebraska thus far have been playing fearless, physical basketball and leaning into the progression of its best players, Keisei Tominaga, Rienk Mast, and Brice Williams, who are combining for nearly 42 points, 17 rebounds, and seven assists per game on very efficient shooting from the floor, behind the arc, and the charity stripe.
The Cornhuskers have been able to fill the huge production gap left by the departure of Sam Griesel and Derrick Walker, which was clearly a main concern. Nebraska has soared to 39th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin ranking, sitting just behind teams like St. John’s, Colorado, and Utah State.
Further, the Cornhuskers rank seventh in the nation in 3P% and 18th in opponent FG% over the past three games, despite playing against Purdue (currently the best team in the nation). The Cornhuskers have been playing at a very competitive level recently.
Meanwhile, Iowa isn’t the offensive powerhouse that it was a few seasons ago when it had Luka Garza at the helm and a handful of elite shooters dispersed around him. However, the Hawkeyes still rank 25th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric and score the sixth-most points per game of any team in the nation.
The problem with Iowa is that it scores many points but isn’t very efficient (80th in the nation in eFG%) in the process and doesn’t get many second-chance points (184th in offensive rebounding percentage.)
Additionally, the Hawkeyes have struggled defensively, particularly away from their home floor. Overall, they rank 119th in adjusted defensive efficiency, 190th in opponent field goal percentage, 265th in opponent three-point percentage, and 228th in defensive rebounding percentage. Talent and chemistry are not excuses, as Iowa brought back its third, fourth, and fifth-leading scorers from last season’s team while also adding star Valpo transfer Ben Krikke and skilled freshman Owen Freeman.
However, there is promise in backing the Hawkeyes in this spot. For one, Iowa’s defense holds opponents to just 41.4% shooting from the field at home, which is seven percent better than on the road. The Hawkeyes are 7-1 on their home floor, with their only loss coming in an uncharacteristic game against Michigan. Since then, they have improved substantially, winning four of their past five games—an 11-point road loss to No. 15 Wisconsin was the only blip.
Ultimately, we expect a negative offensive regression from the Cornhuskers. They are a much more competitive team this year, but they have overachieved and will return to Earth, especially on the road, where they have lost both inner-conference games by double-digits.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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