The resumption of Big Ten men’s basketball starts on Thursday with that first game – Minnesota at Purdue – breaking the logjam for second place in conference standings.
The Boilermakers (8-5, 1-1) and the Gophers (7-5, 1-1) are among the 12 teams tied for second. Yes, there are 12 Big Ten teams that are 1-1 in conference play. The two that are not are Michigan State (2-0) and Northwestern (0-2).
Since its conference season opener – a 72-52 loss at Iowa on Dec. 9 – Minnesota has won three straight. That streak includes an 84-71 shellacking of then No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 15. Then the Gophers have beaten Oklahoma State, 86-66, and Florida International, 89-62.
During that three-game stretch, Minnesota has averaged 86.3 points per game, significantly more than their season average of 74.2 points per game. The Gophers give up 64.6 per game
Comparatively, Purdue has averaged 69.5 points offensively and 57.4 defensively.
Minnesota relies on offensive balance.
It has four players scoring in double figures regularly led by Daniel Oturu, a 6-10 sophomore center, who averages a double-double – 18.3 points per game and 11.7 rebounds. Last season Oturu led the team in blocks (46) and field goal percentage (55.1) while ranking second in rebounding (7.0 per game) and third in scoring (10.8).
Other double-figure scorers this season include Marcus Carr, 6-2 sophomore guard (14.8 points per game), Gabe Kalscheur, 6-4 sophomore guard (14.1 ppg), and Payton Willis, 6-4 junior guard (11.0 ppg).
Purdue and Minnesota split the two regular season games – a 73-63 win in Mackey in February and 73-69 loss in March in Williams Arena. The loss preventing the Boilers from winning the Big Ten regular season crown outright.
“They are a lot different (than last season),” Purdue coach Matt Painter told Gold and Black Illustrated this week. “They have Kalscheur and Oturu – who are very good players, obviously game-changing type players – and you throw in a guy like Marcus Carr who had 35 against Ohio State.
“Oturu has probably been the most consistent of those three as he averages 18 and 11 and 3 blocks a game. A guy you have to know where he is on the court at all times – just his ability to drive the ball, shoot the ball, post up … he’s very versatile for a guy that size.”
The veteran coach admires the balance that Gophers present.
“Anytime you have a big three like that with the guys that they have, where you have three people who can score 30 points on a given night gives you cause for concern,” he said.
On Monday, Painter talked about the progress of sophomore Eric Hunter, Jr.
Hunter has scored in double figures in seven games this season, including the last three. It’s on the defensive side that Hunter has impressed Painter the most.
“I think he’s defended better,” Painter said. “He’s taken on challenges of guarding guys and with that – I think we have been harder on him when he does have breakdowns and that’s hard for a guy to really understand because you are doing better, yet we are on you more.
“That’s kind of the responsibilities you have when you play 30 minutes a game … he’s always been a guy who can score, he’s making some pullups, he’s shot the 3 well – he’s shooting 40 percent from 3 – which is great. He’s got a solid assist to turnover ratio … he’s not a guy who solely plays one position for us.”
In recent games Painter has gone to his two big men – Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams – in the game at the same time. That strategy was sidetracked when Haarms went down with a concussion at Nebraska on Dec. 15. Will fans see more of Haarms and Williams in the game at the same time?
“It depends on how the game is going,” Painter said. “We are still in a process with Matt. I thought the other day’s game (Saturday’s 97-62 win over Central Michigan) was really good for him for what he’s been through to play 12 minutes to get out there and be productive … we could definitely play with both those guys out there on the court.”
• Thursday’s game will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network. Dave Revsine will be doing the play-by-play while Stephen Bardo will serve as the analyst.
• Purdue is 95-80 against Minnesota, but the Gophers have won the last two – both in March 2019. The first of the two was during the last week of the regular season and the second was in the Big Ten Tournament.
• Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is 5-6 against the Boilermakers.
• Purdue owns a 104-83 series lead with Minnesota, including a 15-9 mark under Coach Painter. However, Minnesota has won the last two meetings, coming in a span of 10 days last March.
• The 187 meetings between the two teams make this the eighth-most frequently played rivalry in the Big Ten. Purdue and Indiana lead the way with 209 meetings.
• Purdue looks to continue to sizzle at Mackey Arena, where it has won five straight games. The Boilermakers are shooting 48.1 percent from the field and averaging 77.6 points per game at home.
• Purdue's sophomore class has started to emerge as offensive leaders. The class is averaging 38.5 points per game over the last six games. For the season, the group averages 34.1 points per game, while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from 3-point range.
• Purdue has held its first 13 opponents to 70 or fewer points, the longest streak since the 2010-11 squad held its first 19 opponents to 70 or fewer points.
• Purdue is 7-0 this year when holding foes to 59 or fewer points. The Boilermakers are 1-5 when allowing 60-plus.
• Purdue is 7-0 this year and 27-1 since the start of last year when shooting a higher field goal percentage than its opponent. The lone loss came to Virginia in last year's Elite Eight.
• Purdue is 6-0 this year and has won 17 straight games when attempting more free throws than its opponent.
• Purdue has won eight straight games in contests played on Thursday, going 20-6 on the day of the week since the 2014-15 season.
– Purdue Athletics contributed to this report.