Northwestern and Minnesota are headed in opposite directions when they meet in Indianapolis in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday.(Northwestern vs. Minnesota, Wednesday, March 10, 5:15pm, WGN Radio 720 and our digital streams https://wgnradio.com/on-air/.)
Minnesota (13-14, 6-14) has lost seven in a row to drop to the 13th seed, and coach Richard Pitino is rumored to be on the verge of being fired.
The Golden Gophers were 11-4 in January and had beaten No. 5 Iowa, No. 9 Ohio State and fourth-ranked Michigan before injuries to Liam Robbins and Gabe Kalscheur contributed to the tailspin.
“I look at any team in our league,” Pitino said. “If you took two of their best players off the team, they probably wouldn’t be the same.”
Northwestern (9-14, 6-13) enters as the No. 12 seed on the strength of three straight victories.
“We’re definitely one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and we know that we’re excited to see what we can do in Indianapolis,” Northwestern sophomore center Ryan Young said.
The winner plays fifth-seeded Ohio State (18-8, 12-8) on Thursday.
Northwestern is showing depth that could be a factor in a tournament with no days off between games.
In a 79-78 win over Nebraska on Sunday, the Wildcats had six scorers in double figures for the first time since Dec. 20, 2016, according to the program’s website.
Young was not among them but he hit the most important bucket, grabbing a rebound and scoring the winning points with 2.7 seconds left. In the previous game, he had the go-ahead layup with 1:30 left in a 60-55 win over Maryland.
“These last two games, we felt like (our advantage) was playing through Ryan Young late,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said
Young made the most of his 16 minutes vs. Nebraska.
“Something that’s really good about our team is how versatile we are, that a lot of guys can come off the bench and have huge games,” he said.
Minnesota has relied on its bench out of necessity with Kalscheur missing the past six games with a broken finger and Robbins (sprained ankle) four straight. Both are starters and their status for Wednesday is unknown.
–Field Level Media