Next month, the Super Bowl will be staged in Minnesota, and the Vikings might be in it. The NFL is dominating the local news headlines, fortunately for Richard Pitino.
No news surrounding Minnesota’s college basketball team is positive. Since opening 7-0, the Gophers have turned from golden to goners, with their NCAA Tournament goals all but shot.
For reasons unrelated to Rick Pitino’s downfall at Louisville, little Richard is in trouble at Minnesota. Senior center Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s top interior defenders, is suspended amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The fact Lynch was allowed to play has put Pitino in hot water. Without Lynch and injured guard Amir Coffey, the Gophers (13-5) have dropped their past two games, including an embarrassing 23-point loss at Northwestern on Wednesday.
With no relief in sight, Pitino might soon be in boiling water. The shorthanded Gophers are home underdogs to No. 5 Purdue on Saturday morning. The Boilermakers (16-2) roll in on a 12-game win streak and sit atop the Big Ten at 5-0.
On paper, this shapes up as a double-digit blowout. Purdue has experienced, skilled guards and a mountain of a man, 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, who could dunk all day with Lynch out of the picture. But for fat and happy favorites, road games in conference play are not always so simple. It made no sense for Duke to get upset at Boston College or for Michigan State to get blown out at Ohio State.
Minnesota will try to hang close by riding forward Jordan Murphy, who posted a double-double in 17 of the first 18 games, and guards Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer. Murphy is averaging 18.3 points and 12.1 rebounds. His strong rebounding, which is Purdue’s weakness, could be a key factor. A wounded ‘dog can be dangerous at home, so take 8½ points with the Gophers and look for the Boilermakers to escape with a narrow win.
Three months after Rick Pitino’s demise in the FBI case involving corruption and fraud in college recruiting, the season is taking a wrong turn for his son.
Six more college basketball plays (home team in CAPS):
* Michigan (plus-10) over MICHIGAN STATE: After getting crushed by the Buckeyes in Columbus, the Spartans needed overtime to beat Rutgers. Something is not quite right with Tom Izzo’s team, but Izzo will solve that soon. Will he solve it today? The Wolverines showed their potential in a one-point loss to Purdue. John Beilein is a coaching wizard who spreads the floor with multiple shooters and creates mismatch opportunities. Unless Miles Bridges wakes up from his funk in a big way, Michigan can take this rivalry game to the wire.
* Texas Christian (plus-6½) over OKLAHOMA: Jamie Dixon is doing a fine coaching job with the Horned Frogs, who started 12-0 before a tough-luck stretch in the Big 12, including a 90-89 setback against the Sooners on Dec. 30. The Frogs’ three losses were by a combined six points. This will be a shootout, with Oklahoma ranking No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense (93.1 points per game) and TCU in the top 10 (87.6). Sooners freshman Trae Young is getting sloppy with his shot selection and turnovers.
* TEXAS TECH (-5) over West Virginia: This matchup is the opposite of TCU-Oklahoma because it features great defensive teams. The Red Raiders rank fifth in scoring defense (60.2) for coach Chris Beard, who figures to beat Bob Huggins in this spot. This line opened a little higher than anticipated, and there is little comfort in laying this number, but the No. 2-ranked Mountaineers are ‘dogs for a reason. Huggins will be playing to a tough crowd in Lubbock.
* OKLAHOMA STATE (-2) over Texas: In the absence of Andrew Jones, the Longhorns pulled out an emotional 99-98 double-overtime victory over TCU. Shaka Smart has an improving team with two skilled bigs — Mohamed Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski — but this is a tough spot for Texas. The Cowboys should be able to ride seniors Jeffrey Carroll and Kendall Smith to a win and cover.
* BOISE STATE (-3½) over San Diego State: The Broncos are the second-best team in the Mountain West and 6-7 senior Chandler Hutchison (18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds) is arguably the conference’s best player. The erratic Aztecs, who lost to California before upsetting Gonzaga, will need to bring their “A” game to win or cover this short number.
* HAWAII (-1) over UC Santa Barbara: Late-night bettors looking for action will look to Honolulu. The Gauchos, the favorites in the Big West, are an outstanding 3-point shooting team, with Max Heidegger and Leland King each shooting better than 43 percent. The well-rounded Warriors are led by senior forward Mike Thomas and junior guard Sheriff Drammeh. Hawaii probably should be a 3-point home favorite.
Last Saturday: 4-3-1 against the spread