Unbeaten Michigan faces Minnesota in key Big Ten clash
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Michigan at No. 23 Minnesota, Saturday. The unbeaten Wolverines (11-0, 6-0) stand alone atop the conference standings after getting off to an impressive start under second-year coach Juwan Howard. Michigan is coming off an eye-popping 77-54 rout of No. 9 Wisconsin, a suitable encore to an 82-57 blowout of Minnesota at Ann Arbor. Beginning with a lopsided win over then-No. 19 Northwestern on Jan. 3, Michigan is the first team in NCAA history to defeat ranked opponents by at least 19 points in three straight games. But the Golden Gophers (10-4, 3-4) are 10-0 at home, including a signature 102-95 overtime win over No. 5 Iowa and a 77-60 breeze against 21st-ranked Ohio State. Minnesota junior guard Marcus Carr averages 35.6 minutes and 20.9 points, both team highs.
LOOKING AHEAD: No. 14 Illinois (9-4, 5-2) shifts into bounce-back mode on Saturday at home against Ohio State following a surprising 66-63 defeat against Maryland. The Fighting Illini had won four in a row, most notably an 81-56 rout at Northwestern, before falling flat against the Terrapins. It was the first home loss of the season for Illinois, now in third place in the conference, a game ahead of the Buckeyes (10-3, 4-3). Ohio State brings a two-game winning streak into the matchup. The teams are scheduled to meet again in the regular-season finale.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ron Harper Jr. of Rutgers is averaging 20.1 points per game, up eight points from his average as a sophomore last season. He scored 27 against Maryland, 28 against Illinois and 20 against Ohio State before sustaining an ankle injury that kept him out of the Dec. 29 game against Purdue. Though he’s totaled only 37 points in his last three games, the 6-foot-6 Harper is having a season that would make his father proud. Ron Harper Sr. had a 15-year career in the NBA, winning a combined five titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The Big Ten started the week with six teams in the AP Top 25 and 13 teams in the top 100 of NCAA NET Rankings, including four in the Top 10. ... According to College Basketball Reference, Michigan center Hunter Dickinson leads all NCAA freshmen in field goal percentage (.730), is tied for third in points per game (18.0) and ranks sixth in rebounds per game (8.1). ... Illinois sophomore center Kofi Cockburn had a pair of double-doubles last week and now has nine for the season, the most by any player in the country.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: Maryland (9-1, 5-0) is back in its accustomed spot in the top 10 of the AP poll, checking in at No. 9 this week after extending its winning streak to nine with an 83-46 drubbing of Purdue on Sunday. Despite losing highly touted freshman Angel Reese with a foot fracture just four games into the season, the Terrapins have plenty of weapons in their bid to secure another Big Ten title. Maryland has six players averaging in double figures, led by Ashley Owusu (18.8) and Diamond Miller (17.5). The Terps hope to have Reese back in February, which would make a very good team even better. In her first three games, Reese averaged 17 points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks.
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