Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pigskin Picks: NFL Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 22
NFC Championship – 2:05 p.m. (CT)

Pack 30, FALCONS 27 – If last week’s game in Dallas wasn’t exciting enough, this one should be. Atlanta showed its well-deserved to be the NFC’s No. 2 seed, as it gave Seattle no chance at all in defeating the Seahawks 36-20 last weekend. After giving its home fans plenty to cheer for in the Seattle win, the Falcons now welcome Green Bay to its Georgia Dome home. Once again, the Atlanta faithful should have plenty to cheer for in tomorrow's matchup. However, while the "Dirty Birds" have a strong artillery on offense, its defense just doesn’t stack up well against the Packers. Jordy (Nelson) or no Jordy, Aaron Rodgers yet again finds a way to play inspired football and galvanize his team. After defeating the No. 1 seed Cowboys 34-31 in Dallas last week, the Packers find themselves in another hotly contested game on the road… and as the final tick of the game clock expires, Green Bay emerges victoriously and advances to Super Bowl LI.

AFC Championship – 5:40 p.m. (CT)

Steel 24, PATS 20 – Two for two on Championship Sunday for the road teams... Why not? In the bigger upset of the two games this weekend, the mighty Patriots fall at home to Pittsburgh. Head coach Mike Tomlin has prepared for this moment, this challenge – defeating Bill Belichek, Tom Brady and the Patriots on their home turf in New England. The Steelers use the same recipe for success as it did last week – deploying a steady dose of its star-studded trio on offense, while doing enough on defense to get the job done. Le’Veon Bell has the game of his life tomorrow night, as Pittsburgh takes down the AFC’s top seed.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Minnesota marches into Penn State in mens hoops

The Penn State Nittany Lions have one of the poorest overall records among its Big Ten mens basketball competitors. Led by sixth year head coach Patrick Chambers, the Lions have, however, compiled a 2-2 conference record heading into its home contest today against Minnesota.

Coach Richard Pitino, suffice it to say, could not have been pleased with his Gophers performance Wednesday night. Playing at Michigan State, the Spartans ended Minnesota’s three-game winning streak by delivering the Gophers its biggest loss of the season – a 65-47 defeat (Minnesota’s previous largest loss was 75-67 at Florida State on November 28). Now, the challenge for this team will be to regroup and focus on Penn State.

Minnesota (12-3, 3-2 conference) had few bright spots in its loss Wednesday against the Spartans. But perhaps the loss – particularly the margin of loss – will serve as a wake-up call and inspire the team to dig deep and fight back. It will have its hands full, though. Penn State (10-7, 2-2) features five players who average double figures in scoring and is coming off a win against Michigan State – a team the Gophers have lost to twice.

There’s little doubt the Gophers have had a brighter season than Penn State, overall, but it’s these current conference matchups that count more than ever now.

Minnesota enters today’s contest led by junior point guard Nate Mason (averaging 14.3 points and 5.4 assists per game). Penn State is led in scoring by junior Shep Garner – who averages 12.8 points per game – while freshman Mike Watkins has a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game.

The Gophers and Nittany Lions tip off at 11:00 a.m. (Central Time) at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Early season rematch: Gophers get second shot at Spartans

Of each team’s 18-game conference schedule, tonight’s contest will mark Minnesota and Michigan State’s fifth. Yet even with the Big Ten’s fourteen teams, the matchup in East Lansing will also represent a rematch from two weeks ago.

Following the team’s 75-74 overtime defeat to the Spartans in Minnesota’s conference home opener December 27, the Gophers look to avenge its lone Big Ten loss tonight. Michigan State, meanwhile, has had its share of struggles this season and sees an opportunity to host a team it just defeated not long ago.

Coached by Tom Izzo, Michigan State (11-6, 3-1 conference) has yet to play up to its perennially lofty expectations. Case in point, the Spartans lost a home contest to lesser-known Northeastern earlier this season. Izzo’s squad has since responded with three consecutive wins to open up conference play; but then suffered its first Big Ten defeat in its last game – a 72-63 loss to Penn State on Saturday.

As for Minnesota, third-year head coach Richard Pitino has his squad playing well in the early portion of its Big Ten schedule. The Gophers (15-2, 3-1) loss to the Spartans aside, Minnesota has recovered for three straight wins. This includes a road win over then-No. 15 Purdue, a Boilermakers team which delivered Wisconsin its first defeat in conference play – a 66-65 win on Sunday which ensured that every Big Ten team has incurred a conference loss.

The Gophers and Spartans will tip off at Michigan State’s Breslin Center tonight at 6:00 p.m. (CT)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Mason, Lynch look to guide Gophers past Northwestern

The Minnesota Gophers mens basketball team defeated a 15th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers team on New Year’s Day on the Boilers’ home court. Next up, the Gophers face Northwestern on its home floor tonight in Evanston, Illinois. Following its Big Ten-opening loss at home, Minnesota hopes to rebound with consecutive road wins. But this task most definitely will not be simple…
While the Gophers (13-2, 1-1 conference) have reason to be confident, Northwestern (12-3, 1-1) has plans to win its first Big Ten home contest and improve its season record at Welsh-Ryan Arena to a perfect 10-0. But while the Wildcats hope to enjoy its home court advantage, the team lacks two particular weapons its road foes have: juniors Nate Mason and Reggie Lynch.

Minnesota will rely on freshman Amir Coffey and sophomores Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer in order for its team to enjoy success this season. But the veteran leadership of Mason and impressive front court play from Lynch were on full display at Purdue - and consequently will be counted on tonight as well.

While it’s unlikely Mason can replicate his masterful performance against the Boliermakers – a game in which he scored a career-high 31 points and dished out a team-high 11 assists – the junior guard’s court vision and leadership are virtues his team leans upon.

As for Lynch, the player head coach Rick Pitino has said is the best center in the Big Ten, Minnesota needs his durability under the hoop. The 6-foot-10-inch Illinois State transfer recorded 10 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks against Purdue. However, Lynch played only 26 minutes before fouling out in overtime.
Mason, Lynch and the Gophers face the Wildcats this evening at 8:00 p.m. (Central Time).

Northwestern is led by junior guard Scottie Lindsey and sophomore forward Vic Law. Lindsey enters tonight’s contest as the Wildcats’ leading scorer, averaging 15.7 points per game. Law, meanwhile, ranks second on his team in both points (13.7 per game) and rebounds (5.9).

Junior guard Bryant McIntosh leads Northwestern in assists – dishing out 5.6 per contest.