GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers attempt to continue their reign atop the Big Ten Conference standings on Tuesday night, as they challenge the struggling Minnesota Golden Gophers at Williams Arena.
Since suffering a heart-breaking setback at Illinois on Feb. 7, Indiana has responded with four straight wins to secure the nation's No. 1 ranking at 24-3. The Hoosiers most recently participated in one of the season's best games when they defeated Michigan State in East Lansing last Tuesday, 72-68, further cementing their place atop the Big Ten standings with a league ledger of 12-2.
Once considered one of the nation's elite teams, the treacherous road in the Big Ten has gotten the best of Minnesota lately, as it has dropped eight of its last 11 games to plummet to 18-9 overall and just 6-8 in league play. The Gophers endured an embarrassing 71-45 road loss at Ohio State last Wednesday, and they are not only falling out of relevance in the Big Ten, but also losing credibility with the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Indiana survived a furious second-half comeback attempt by Minnesota in the first matchup this season to win 88-81 in Bloomington on Jan. 12. That win extended the Hoosiers' lead in the all-time series to 95-66.
Indiana and Michigan State played within one possession of each other for most of the final 10 minutes last Tuesday, and after the Spartans took a four-point lead with just 1:37 to play, the Hoosiers ran off seven straight points, with Victor Oladipo's layup with 43 seconds to go proving to be the game-winner. IU was held to a lower scoring output than what it is typically used to thanks to MSU's stout defense, but the team still managed to shoot 44.3 percent from the field, and was paced by 19 points from Oladipo to go along with nine rebounds and five steals. Cody Zeller added 17 points, while Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford netted 12 points apiece. On the season, Indiana owns the nation's second-ranked scoring offense with 82.5 ppg, and paired with its stellar scoring defense (61.3 ppg), it has Division I's most impressive scoring margin (+21.3). The deep Hoosiers are led by Zeller, who shoots nearly 59 percent from the field for 16.6 ppg, while adding team-highs 8.1 rpg and 1.3 bpg. Oladipo (14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is also highly efficient, shooting 63.9 percent from the floor. Watford (13.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Hulls (10.8 ppg) are both deadly from 3-point range, making a combined 113 long-range buckets at a 49 percent clip. Will Sheehey adds 9.9 ppg to the mix, and Kevin Ferrell (7.3 ppg) has 117 assists (4.3 apg) compared to only 55 turnovers.
Minnesota trailed by six points at the half against Ohio State the last time out, but it quickly lost control of the contest in the final stanza as it shot a woeful 6-of-24 (.250) from the field over the final 20 minutes. The team finished the contest with 10 more turnovers (24) than field goals (14), and the blowout would have been even worse had it not put together a solid 15- of-20 showing at the foul line. Andre Hollins tallied 11 points and eight rebounds in the setback, while Oto Osenieks added 10 points off the bench. The Gophers rank in the middle of the Big Ten in terms of offense, netting 69.1 ppg on 44.5 percent field goal shooting, but they have been floundering in recent weeks, as they have scored 62 points or less in eight of their last nine games. Andre Hollins is the top performer both in terms of scoring (13.6 ppg) and getting his teammates involved (3.3. apg), while Austin Hollins chips in with 11.1 ppg and 1.9 spg. Rodney Williams (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) and Trevor Mbakwe (9.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.6 rpg) have been a useful duo in the paint, while Joe Coleman rounds out a quality starting five with 9.0 ppg.
The Gophers have played well on their home floor this season (13-2), and if everything is clicking they certainly have the talent to pull off the upset, but they have been playing so poorly of late that it would be a surprise if they even kept this game close.