2008-2009 Season

Game 31: Michigan at Minnesota Preview

: Michigan (18-12) at Minnesota (21-8)
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, MN
When: Saturday, March 7th, Noon ET
: Minnesota by 5
Preview: Stat Sheet, U-M KenPom Profile, Minnesota KenPom Profile
: MGoBlue, WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050)
Last Time:
Preview / Interview / Recap
Opposition Blog: From the Barn

“It’s that same dizziness,” he said. “Second years are a roller coaster. Just when you think you’re getting better and you’ve made it, watch out, and when you think you’re never going to get better, you play great.

“We haven’t turned the corner yet. We can see the corner up there, but we haven’t turned it.”

Those were John Beilein’s words back in December when he urged fans not to get ahead of themselves after the win over Duke. The man looks like a prophet now because it is hard to call this season anything but a roller coaster. The triumphant highs after wins over UCLA, Duke, Illinois, and Purdue were in the midst of disappointing losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The ride isn’t over yet, Saturday will be just another step of the way.

Michigan fans are no strangers to late season games with tournament implications. In the last three years every Michigan fan has felt the heartbreak of being left out of the dance after crushing defeat late in the season. In 2006 it was a home loss to Indiana followed by a backbreaking collapse against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. In 2007 it was a late game collapse against #1 Ohio State that ended Dion Harris and company’s career on a sour note.

What was John Beilein doing during over the last few years? The magic at West Virginia started in 2005 when West Virginia caught fire down the stretch and won 6 of their last 8 conference games and then marched to the Big East conference final. Their magical season continued into March when the Mountaineers beat Creighton, Wake Forest, and Texas Tech before falling an overtime short of the Final Four against Louisville (season highlight video). 2006 was more of the same as West Virginia made another tournament run, this time to the Sweet 16. We can’t pretend like John Beilein is immune to Selection Sunday disappointments. In 2007 Beilein’s squad was one of the first teams left out of the tournament despite a winning conference record but they went on to win the NIT.

Now is the chance for this program to get up off the mat. They can kill two birds with one stone on Saturday. It is a chance to get the first statement road win of the John Beilein era and just maybe punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament.  The frustrating part is that it won’t be easy because Minnesota needs this one just as badly as Michigan. Both teams are working to secure a tournament bid and despite what anyone says they both have work to do.

Michigan dominated the first game even without getting much production from Manny Harris who was limited with foul trouble. Michigan out shot and out rebounded the Gophers and did a great job holding onto the ball (TO%: 12.5%). On offense it was the Zack Novak show, the freshman hit six out of ten three pointers en route to 18 points. Stu Douglass added 12 points and Kelvin Grady knocked down four triples for 12 as well. Michigan picked apart Minnesota and they had a 20 point lead midway through the second half.

I don’t expect the second time around to be quite as easy. I would expect Minnesota to look to go inside much more this time, the Gophers’ big men were 5 of 8 shooting in the first match-up but they just didn’t get many touches. Lawrence Westbrook was a non-factor, scoring 12 points on 15 shots, but anyone who saw Minnesota play Wednesday night knows that he can take over a game. Not to mention the fact that Michigan struggles to shoot on the road, another 46% day from behind the arc seems unlikely.

Looking at Minnesota’s statistical profile it is clear that they do a couple things very well. They start on the defensive end, Minnesota’s defense ranks 19th in the country in terms of overall adjusted efficiency. Their defensive excellence stems from their ability to cause turnovers and block shots. Minnesota forces their opponents to turn the ball over on 23.2% of their possessions (41st nationally) and they have sterling block (19.2, 1st nationally) and steal (13.3, 7th nationally) percentages.

The Minnesota offense falls much closer to the middle of the pack. Minnesota is an average shooting team (49.9 eFG%) but the one thing they do well is crash the offensive glass. The first match-up between these two teams was Minnesota’s worst offensive rebounding performance of the year and they only rebounded 17.7% of their misses. It will be crucial for Michigan to do a good job on the defensive glass again on Saturday. Minnesota struggles to hold onto the ball (TO% = 21.9%, 246th) and get to the free throw line (FTA/FGA = 33, 257th).

Minnesota has been hard to beat at the Barn this year, their only two losses have come to the top two teams in the conference, Michigan State and Purdue. It will probably take a near perfect game for Michigan to have a chance. Luckily Michigan has played their best with their backs to the wall and plenty of rest, both of those conditions are clearly met. In the first game Michigan rode their role players but those same role players have been almost nonexistent on the road. If we see the good side of Manny Harris and the DeShawn Sims that we saw against Purdue then this team has a shot. If not I’m going to side with Pomeroy who gives Michigan a 28% chance at victory.

Let’s hear your thoughts and predictions in the comments. For more on Minnesota’s personnel, strengths, and weaknesses make sure to go back and check out my interview with Jonathan Foster of From the Barn, and my last preview. No live blog for this one but I’ll be in the comments leaving my thoughts and others are encouraged to join.

Pre-Game Reading (updated until game time)

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