Jonathan Foster, the man behind From The Barn, agreed to answer a couple questions about the Gophers before Thursday’s big game. This game is huge for each team’s tournament chances and in many ways these two programs are in a very similar spot. I also answered a couple questions over there, so make sure you check them out .
As a Michigan fan that is not too familiar with the program, take me through Minnesota’s year. This is the second year under Tubby Smith, how has the transition gone thus far?
Minnesota will bring a 19-6 record into their game Thursday at Michigan. In terms of their overall record, it would be difficult to deny that their season has been successful, though, that gaudy record is misleading.
The Gophers had an easy non-conference season, except for a game against Louisville in Arizona of all places. Minnesota was undefeated in the non-conference season and was more or less unchallenged except for that win over Louisville and a one-point road win at Colorado State. The final scores were not impressive. For example, they beat Georgia State by eight, Virginia by ten, and South Dakota State by 14. Considering Minnesotaâ€™s injury problems during that portion of the season, Blake Hoffarber, Damian Johnson, and Paul Carter all missed multiple games, we were just happy to keep winning.
Michigan State brought Minnesota back to reality during the Big Ten opener on New Yearâ€™s Eve, handing the Gophers a 12 point loss that in reality was not even that close. They bounced back though, beating Ohio State and arch-rivals Iowa and Wisconsin on the road for the first time since 1994 and a blow-out win over Penn State that featured a 9-9 three point shooting performance.
Expectations were high and long-suffering Gopher fans thought that after a decade of futility they might finally have something to be excited about. Since that Wisconsin win the Gophers have not been the same. The offense has stagnated and the players are making stupid mistakes. They have lost four of their last seven games, with two wins over Indiana and a 23 point win over Illinois, but how can you lose if your opponent scores only 36 points?
I sense a lot of pessimism on your site, why so negative? The computer numbers still look good and there are winnable games left on the schedule.
You call it pessimism, I call it realism, and it has three main causes: unrealistic expectations, lack of improvement/regression, and Minnesota.
When I look back at my pre-season predictions, the Gophers are where I expected them to be, but with such a hot start it is hard not to be disappointed with the direction this season has gone. If the Gophers had dropped an easy non-conference game, it would have brought the sky-high expectations down to earth to a level appropriate for a young team that is bubble-worthy at best.
Minnesotaâ€™s regression on the offensive end also leads to some healthy pessimism. Statistically the Gopherâ€™s offense is now worse than it was a year ago and over the last several game has been as bad as it was in 2007, when the Gophers won only 9 games. Frustratingly, the coaching staff has been unwilling or unable to try anything new. The Gophers come into each game with the same game plan with the same results. It all seems so scripted now.
Finally, every Minnesota team has always gotten our hopes up only to let us down, often in spectacular fashion. Being overly optimistic and even more pessimistic is what we do. It gets us through the winter.
The Gophers are a very deep team, who should Michigan look out for?
Eleven different players have led the Gophers in scoring so far this year, so on any given night any player could have a big game. That being said, only two players Paul Carter and Devoe Joseph have played well recently. Carter is an explosive forward who hasnâ€™t quite learned to finish. Fortunately, he is a ferocious rebounder who can usually clean up his own mess, even if it is on the third or fourth try. Devoe Joseph is a natural shooting guard forced into playing point guard when Al Nolen is out of the game. He is the teamâ€™s best outside shooter, but also the most likely to commit turnovers. Ahh youth.
Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson are the teamâ€™s leading scorers, but neither has been playing well at all lately. It is entirely possible that they could break out of their slumps at any time, but until they do Carter and Joseph are Minnesotaâ€™s best bets.
What kind of size do you guys have? Size has been Michigan’s downfall all year whether it is Hasheem Thabeet, BJ Mullens, or Delvon Roe. Who is the Minnesota player of choice to exploit the Zack Novak mismatch?
Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson are two nearly 7 foot-tall centers and have both been starting most of the season. Iverson is a rawer banger while Sampson is a bit more polished with more finesse. As long as both players attack the basket and stay out of foul trouble, any 6â€™5â€™â€™ player would be in trouble.
Why has Minnesota started losing? Are you guys struggling in a certain area?
Minnesota is losing because they arenâ€™t scoring. Teams have figured out that Al Nolen lacks a consistent outside shot and are playing off of him. This takes away his drive and ruins passing angles to the interior, which has ultimately ruined the offense. The Gophers consistently pressed in the non-conference season, and that led to turnovers and easy baskets without having to rely on a half-court offense, but that strategy has been abandoned, and the easy baskets are long gone.
Let’s hear a prediction for Thursday’s game and the player of the game.
If the Gophers make some much-needed changes in terms of personnel and strategy, I would pick the Gophers to win a close game. However, if nothing changes, and it isnâ€™t expected to, Michigan should win by about seven points.