Free NCAA Pick: Indiana at Minnesota

Yes, I realize Minnesota opening with 15 wins in its first 16 games is a distant memory. The Gophers have lost eight of their past 11. Their bad stretch began with an 88-81 road loss to Indiana on Jan. 26. The Gophers nearly came back from a 23-point deficit in that matchup.

The Gophers have gotten blown out in their last two games, losing on the road to Ohio State and Iowa. The Gophers have turned the ball over a combined 41 times in those two games while shooting just 32.6 percent from the field.

But Minnesota is much better at home, has played a difficult schedule (17th in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings) and this is a circle-the-wagons, let-everything-hang game. The Gophers know they need a good showing to regain their confidence and get back off the mat not to mention keep them firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. A blowout home loss would look bad.

The Gophers have beaten Michigan State and Wisconsin at Williams Arena during the past three weeks. The Spartans are ranked ninth and Wisconsin is 17th, respectively, in the latest The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Indiana is No. 1. The Hoosiers are in a bit of if not a letdown spot at least a situation where their motivation doesn’t figure to be as high as Minnesota’s. The Hoosiers won a hard-fought 72-68 road battle at Michigan State in their last game to give them a two-game lead in the loss column over the Spartans for the Big Ten Conference crown.

On the injury front, senior forward Rodney Williams, the Gophers’ second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, has recovered from his shoulder soreness and will start. Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, who is second in scoring for the Hoosiers, isn’t 100 percent due to a sprained ankle.

This is the Big Ten. Desperate home teams protect their turf. The Gophers are in that spot. They’ve beaten Top 20 teams at home and they can hang in here against the best.

(Editor’s note: Stephen has his February College Basketball Game of the Month going today along with his NBA Top of the Ticket. Stephen has won nine of his last 11 college basketball plays. Stephen was the No. 1 handicapper in units won and win percentage in the NFL and he’s having a big winning year in basketball, too. Go with a proven winner and start earning big bucks.)

Play on Minnesota

I have had only one losing season in pro football in my handicapping career. I have the best sources in the business thanks to more than 25 years as a sportswriter, handicapper and analyst.

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