Nebraska continues Big Ten gauntlet vs. No. 14 Minnesota
LINCOLN, Neb. — Though the college basketball season is less than four weeks old, a pecking order already has formed at the top of the Big Ten Conference.
Michigan State (No. 3), Minnesota (No. 14) and Purdue (No. 21) are in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. No other Big Ten school is in the list of schools receiving votes.
Congratulations, Nebraska, you drew the Spartans and Gophers to open your Big Ten Conference season. After getting drubbed 86-57 Sunday at Michigan State, the Huskers host Minnesota on Tuesday.
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Rutgers got the same pair of schools to open its schedule: The Scarlet Knights were routed 89-67 Sunday at Minnesota, and they host Michigan State on Tuesday.
Not the easiest way to kick off the conference slate, though Nebraska coach Tim Miles said after practice Monday that it is a good way to gage the progress the Huskers (6-3) have made since the start of the season.
“Today when you start dissecting it on film, every little inch of it, you’re like, ‘We could have played harder here, we could have done better there,'” Miles said. “At the same time, I don’t think we’re that bad, but I think they’re that good.”
To Miles, Minnesota’s starting five resembles Michigan State in that both teams are big and physical with a pair of strong inside players. He said the biggest difference between the Spartans and Gophers is that Michigan State has a deeper bench.
The Gophers (8-1) also possess one of the country’s most potent offenses. Minnesota was No. 17 nationally in scoring, through Sunday, with an average of 89.4 points per game; Nebraska was 210th at 73.6.
Minnesota’s roster also has the nation’s leading shot-blocker. Six-foot-10 senior Reggie Lynch had his fourth game with at least five blocked shots in the Sunday win over Rutgers.
“Jordan Murphy (Minnesota’s 6-foot-6 junior forward) arguably could be the player of the week every week in the Big Ten,” Miles said. “He’s got a chance to be player of the year, and that’s with three other guys (in the conference) going to the NBA.”
Murphy paced the Gophers with averages of 21 points and 12.9 points per game.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Minnesota’s players had to regroup at the first media timeout Sunday because they weren’t expecting such a strong push from the Scarlet Knights. Pitino said that’s life in the conference.
“There can’t be a letdown emotionally,” Pitino said. “If you’re going to win the Big Ten, you have to be physical. For us, it’s very, very important, these league games.”
For the Huskers to avoid an 0-2 start after kicking off Big Ten play 3-0 a year ago, Miles said a stronger effort will be needed to topple the Gophers.
“We need to play harder, we need to attack the paint and make the right play,” Miles said. “(Sunday) night we needed to pass out because they were just running bodies at us, and we didn’t do a very good job with that. “