The highlight of Thursday’s college hoops card will come from the Big Ten Conference, as Michigan and Minnesota will collide at The Barn in Minneapolis. Both schools are in a five-way tie for second place in the conference, one game behind league-leading Wisconsin, which is in sole possession of the top spot with a 4-0 record following its upset win Tuesday at Indiana.
Michigan (16-1 straight up, 9-6 against the spread) will be in bounce-back mode for the first time this year after dropping a 56-53 decision Sunday afternoon at Ohio St. as a two-point underdog. The Wolverines, the nation’s last remaining unbeaten team, fell behind the Buckeyes 29-8 early and were down by 12 at intermission.
John Beilein’s squad wouldn’t fold, though, pulling even at 46-46 with 5:58 left on a 3-pointer from Glenn Robinson III. But Michigan couldn’t overcome 20 points from DeShaun Thomas and stifling defense from Ohio St. guard Aaron Craft, who forced Trey Burke into a 4-of-13 shooting performance from the field.
Burke finished with a team-high 15 points, while Tim Hardaway Jr. had 12 points but made only 5-of-15 from the floor. Michigan shot just 38.3 percent from the field and freshman Nik Stauskas (13.5 points per game, 52.3% from 3-point range) was held scoreless and missed all three attempts from beyond the arc.
Minnesota (15-2 SU, 11-4 ATS) saw its 11-game winning streak snapped in Saturday’s 88-81 loss at Indiana at Assembly Hall. However, after trailing 52-29 at halftime, the Gophers rallied to within three in the final minute and covered the spread as eight-point underdogs.
Andre Hollins was the catalyst in the comeback, scoring a game-high 25 points thanks to five treys. All five starters scored in double figures with Trevor Mbakwe tallying 13 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
In his fifth year at the helm, Tubby Smith clearly has his best team at Minnesota. The Gophers, who already have eight wins over RIP Top 100 squads, have a balanced offensive attack and plenty of depth. They have proven themselves on the road with dominant wins at Illinois and at Florida St., in addition to neutral-floor victories over Memphis and Stanford.
Rodney Williams, a 6’7” senior forward, doesn’t get as many shots as I would like to see him get, but he’s extremely productive nonetheless. Williams has an excellent mid-range jumper and attacks the rim relentlessly. His matchup with Robinson will be fun to watch.
The battle between the big men will be another interesting watch, albeit PG-13 at least. Michigan’s Jordan Morgan plays his role to near perfection. Morgan is one of the country’s best post defenders, sets brutal screens to get Hardaway and Stauskas open for clean perimeter looks and hits the boards hard at both ends.
Also, Morgan doesn’t need a lot of touches and rarely takes a bad shot. With that said, he’s a strong finisher.
Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior who missed nearly all of last season with a torn ACL, is just now getting back to 100 percent healthy and regaining his conditioning in the last few weeks. He has four double-doubles in the last six games.
Michigan has won three in a row over the Gophers and seven of the last eight, going 5-3 ATS in the process.
The ‘over’ is 10-5 overall for Michigan, 2-1 in its three true road assignments. The ‘over’ is 6-4 overall for Minnesota, but the ‘under’ is 4-1 in its five home games with a total.
BetOnline.com opened Minnesota as a 3 1/2-point favorite.
Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Duke (15-1 SU, 9-7 ATS) will also be looking to respond from its first defeat Thursday when it hosts Ga. Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils, playing without Ryan Kelly for the first time, lost 84-76 Saturday at North Carolina St. as one-point road ‘chalk.’
Kelly, who averages 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, is ‘out’ indefinitely with a foot injury. Senior guard Seth Curry has also been bothered by an ankle sprain, but he’s ‘probable’ against the Yellow Jackets. Curry averages 16.4 PPG.
Ga. Tech (10-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) has lost three in a row, including Saturday’s 70-65 overtime loss to Va. Tech as a 10-point home favorite. The Yellow Jackets have been road underdogs twice, going 0-2 both SU and ATS with a pair of double-digit defeats at Illinois and at N.C. St.
The ‘under’ is on a 13-3 run in the last 16 head-to-head meetings between these long-time ACC adversaries. Duke has won eight of the last nine over the Yellow Jackets.
BetOnline.com opened the Blue Devils as 17-point 'chalk.'
ESPN will have the telecast at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Coming off its 83-71 win over Kentucky on Saturday at Rupp Arena, Texas A&M returns home Thursday to take on Florida. ESPN2 will have television coverage at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The Gators will be without junior forward Casey Prather, who will miss the next 10-14 days with a sprained ankle. Mike Rosario, who missed Saturday’s blowout win at LSU with an ankle injury, is poised to return to the lineup against the Aggies.
--Illinois St. has suspended senior guard Tyler Brown indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. Brown was averaging 15.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game. The Redbirds started 9-3 and nearly pulled an upset at Louisville, but they took a five-game losing streak into Wednesday’s game at Wichita St.
--Vandy plus eight was Tuesday’s Bad Beat. The Commodores led by three at the end of regulation when Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson buried a 35-foot bomb at the buzzer to force overtime. The Rebels went on to capture an 89-79 win to take the cash as eight-point road ‘chalk.’ Henderson has helped Andy Kennedy’s team to a 14-2 record by averaging 19.1 points per game. The Rebels’ two losses came by five combined points to Indiana St. and Middle Tennessee, both of whom are RPI Top 50 teams.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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