NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: 65-63 win over No. 23 Missouri
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Rayvonte Rice (18.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.9 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Minnesota only faces Illinois once this year, and not until Feb. 19. A lot can certainly change between now and then. While the Illini finished 11-2 in nonconference play, they had just one impressive win (against Missouri). Illinois' defense is ahead of its offense at this point, which is the opposite of where the Gophers are at right now. Given that this game will be at Williams Arena, Minnesota should have the edge in what could be a low-scoring game.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Losses to No. 18 UConn and No. 4 Syracuse
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Yogi Ferrell (16.8 ppg, 4.2 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: The Hoosiers and Gophers had similar nonconference schedules, with each team losing to the only ranked foes they faced while rolling through lower-tier teams. Indiana has been one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball, something that Minnesota has struggled with early on. The Gophers will have to bolster their post presence in order to compete on the boards with the Hoosiers during their Feb. 8 matchup in Minneapolis.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Wins over Notre Dame and Xavier; losses against Villanova and Iowa State
PLAYER TO WATCH: F Aaron White (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Iowa has been one of the more impressive teams in the deep Big Ten this year. The Hawkeyes' only two nonconference losses were in overtime to Villanova and by two points to No. 17 Iowa State on the road. So far, Iowa has been one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, averaging 88.7 points per game. Only two teams in college basketball rank higher in rebounds per game than the Hawkeyes (45.9), which could provide a mismatch in the post for the Gophers. Minnesota's defense will certainly be tested in both matchups with Iowa, including a tough road test on Jan. 19 in Iowa City.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Losses to No. 1 Arizona, No. 10 Duke
PLAYER TO WATCH: F Glenn Robinson III (14.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: It may be a bit of a down year for the Wolverines this season, especially after the recent news that big man Mitch McGarry will likely be out for the rest of the year due to back surgery. The 6-foot-10 sophomore was a force in the low post and would have been a handful for Minnesota in the Big Ten opener on Thursday. Without McGarry, the Gophers might have a shot to compete in the paint against Michigan when the Wolverines come to Williams Arena in a few days.
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Michigan State Spartans
NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Win vs. No. 1 Kentucky, home loss to North Carolina
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Gary Harris (17.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: It's hard to believe the Spartans are the No. 5 team in the country and are still just the third-highest ranked Big Ten team. Michigan State does a lot of things well; the Spartans lead the nation in assists per game (19.5) and are second in the Big Ten in scoring average (83.7 ppg). MSU is led by a pair of seniors in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, as well as the sophomore Harris. Minnesota faces the Spartans just once this year and has to travel to East Lansing, which is always a tough place to play. However, North Carolina showed that it is possible for an unranked team to win at the Breslin Center.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Wins vs. Miami and Georgia, losses to Creighton and Cincinnati
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Shavon Shields (12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.9 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Nebraska was picked to finish near the bottom -- or perhaps even last -- in the Big Ten this season. Through nonconference play, the Huskers are 8-4 but didn't face a single ranked opponent. Nebraska ranks near the bottom of the conference in a lot of statistical categories, but one thing Nebraska does do well is protect the ball. The Huskers' turnover margin of 3.5 per game is third in the conference, trailing only Ohio State and Minnesota. The Gophers like to force turnovers and turn them into points, but that might be tricky against a Nebraska squad that doesn't turn the ball over a ton.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Losses to No. 19 UCLA and Missouri
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Drew Crawford (16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: The Wildcats will likely be joining the Huskers in the Big Ten's cellar this season. It was a rough stretch during nonconference play for Northwestern, which enters the conference season with a 7-6 record. The Wildcats have the worst scoring offense (66.7 ppg) in the Big Ten, but Northwestern's defense (63.2 ppg) has held its own. If the Wildcats can slow down Minnesota's fast-paced offense, things could possibly get interesting, but it's not likely that Northwestern will give the Gophers much of a challenge -- especially at Williams Arena.
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Ohio State Buckeyes
NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Wins vs. No. 17 Marquette and Notre Dame
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Aaron Craft (9.5 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.4 spg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: The third-ranked Buckeyes are currently the team to beat in the Big Ten, as they have yet to lose this season. Ohio State's roster has plenty of experience with nine upperclassmen, including seven juniors. The biggest key to the Buckeyes' success so far has been defense; OSU allows just 54.0 points per game, fewest in the Big Ten. The Gophers will need to find a way to crack Ohio State's tough defense, which is something no team has yet accomplished.
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Penn State Nittany Lions
NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Win vs. St. Johns, loss to Princeton
PLAYER TO WATCH: G D.J. Newbill (18.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.4 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Scoring has not been an issue for the Nittany Lions, who have the Big Ten's top scorer in Newbill and fourth-leading scorer in Tim Frazier. Defense, however, has been a struggle for Penn State, which ranks dead last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (73.2 ppg). That means it could be a high-scoring affair when Minnesota travels to State College for a Jan. 8 meeting with the Nittany Lions as two below-average defenses are pitted against high-scoring offenses.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Win vs. West Virginia, loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Ronnie Johnson (10.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.7 rpg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Purdue and Minnesota could be jockeying for position in the middle of the Big Ten standings this year, so their two games on Jan. 5 and Feb. 5 could have a big impact down the road. The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten in blocked shots but otherwise fall in near the middle of the pack in most other categories. Purdue's scoring attack is balanced, as four different players average at least 8.0 points per game so far this season.
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NONCONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS: Wins vs. No. 11 Florida and at Virginia
PLAYER TO WATCH: F Sam Dekker (14.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
HOW THE GOPHERS MATCH UP: Like Ohio State, the Badgers remain undefeated through nonconference play. While previous Wisconsin teams played the game at a snail's pace and forced opponents to slow things down, this year's squad has been a bit more apt to run. Still, it will be the clash of opposing styles when the uptempo Gophers face Bo Ryan's Badgers on Jan. 22 and Feb. 13. Will Minnesota be forced to slow things down, or can the Gophers be the ones to speed up Wisconsin?
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