No matter how divergent the fortunes of Michigan and Minnesota have been during the last two years, the two teams have still managed to create quite a rivalry — both with actions and words.
Last season, during a mediocre 9-9 Big Ten season, Michigan forward Maurice Taylor questioned after a 70-64 loss at Williams Arena whether the Gophers were really a better team. When Minnesota clinched the Big Ten title later that year on Michigan’s home floor, it proved it was.
The net-cutting ceremony that followed at Crisler Arena after that win apparently irked the Wolverines, who said it motivated them in a 65-57 victory there on Jan. 20. If the recent pattern continues, the Gophers should make a statement with a big win at the Barn on Saturday.
The problem with that logic is that the Gophers are a paltry 2-8 and in ninth place in the conference, while Michigan is 7-3, two games out of first. Those records make a Michigan win, even at Williams Arena, more likely.
Also, the payback theory that has held true lately might have expired. There is no defining moment from the last game — which featured poor shooting and turnovers galore — on which to build.
“They were awful, we were awful,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “It was a terrible came to watch, a terrible game to coach, and terrible to officiate.”
Shortly after Sam Okey, 1996 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, left Wisconsin for Iowa, the two teams met each other Tuesday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., for a bit of a grudge match.
Iowa rubbed it in further with a come-from-behind 79-76 victory, but Okey missed seeing it in person, instead opting to watch it at home on TV. Okey, who won’t be eligible to play for the Hawkeyes until the second semester next season, apparently didn’t want to look at the game as the Okey Sweepstakes Bowl.
“Sam just told us to go get ’em, get the win,” Iowa guard Ryan Luehrsmmann said. “He still loves the state. He’s got a lot of friends on the team. And he doesn’t hold any grudges. He just feels that it’s going to be better for him to get a chance to show some different things at Iowa.”
Hell still frozen
To anyone who thought it was merely cute that usual also-ran Michigan State held the Big Ten lead through most of the first half of the season: Watch out.
The Spartans have won seven straight, 12 of 13, and their 9-1 start in the Big Ten is their best since joining the conference in 1950-51. They still lead Illinois by a full game.
“I guess you can add me to the growing list of coaches who have seen Michigan State play and have been impressed with them,” Ohio State coach Jim O’Brien said after his Buckeyes were trounced by the No. 16 Spartans 84-58 on Wednesday. “They are a tremendous basketball team. They do a lot of great things. One of the big things is their depth. They bring it to you for 40 minutes. And they are hungry — very, very hungry.”
Off the dribble
ù Penn State guard Dan Earl said last week that he will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. Earl received a medical redshirt after missing the 1996-97 year because of back problems, and a torn anterior cruciate ligament after five games this season has sidelined him for this year.
ù Iowa coach Tom Davis said that Jess Settles, who also missed this season and last because of injuries, will not request a medical redshirt that would give him a sixth year at Iowa.
ù Indiana coach Bob Knight, on his inconsistent team: “I don’t think this team’s ever going to play a game where everything is good. I’m convinced of that.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this notebook