Who: Michigan (11-12, 4-7) vs. Minnesota (14-8, 5-5)
Michigan is projected as a number one seed in the CBI. That tells you just about everything there is to know about this season. Expectations at this point are gone, Michigan is playing for pride from here out.
A year ago Michigan got one of their biggest and most unexpected wins at the Barn. As we know all too well, the wheels have fallen off since last March. Sitting at 11-12, losers of 5 of their last 6, Michigan is tumbling for rock bottom.
Things aren’t much better for Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers. Prized recruits Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White never made it onto the court. Starting point guard Al Nolen is out for the second semester with academic problems. Minnesota is just 14-8 (5-5) and looking to figure a way to play themselves into the tournament. Disappointing for a team that was thought to have a chance to contend in the Big Ten this year.
It’s tough to know what to expect when two slumping teams meet but if following Big Ten basketball has taught me one thing it is always pick the home team.
Minnesota is better statistically than their record shows, especially on the defensive end. The Gophers force turnovers on 25% of their opponents possessions and allow them to shoot only 43% on two point field goals. Minnesota ranks in the top 10 in block% and steal% as well. Their one “weakness” tends to be the three point shot (allow 34.1%) but who are we kidding, Michigan can’t hit the three.
Offensively the Gophers aren’t quite as proficient but they can get by. They shoot the ball well (53.5 eFG%) and hold onto it (18.9% TO) but they don’t crash the offensive glass or get to the line. Minnesota shoots a high percentage on three point attempts (38.%) but they only attempt threes on 31% of their field goal attempts.
Minnesota entered the season with a ridiculously deep roster and even though they have taken a few hits, they still have plenty of talent.
- Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook is a scorer with a knack for hitting big shots.
- 6-foot-7 wing forward Damian Johnson is one of the best defenders in the country and will almost assuredly draw the Manny Harris match-up.
- Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III give Minnesota a pair of big bodies down low. Neither are particularly efficient offensive players but they are both good defenders and rebounders.
- Freshman Rodney Williams is one of the most athletic players in the conference but he has struggled to put everything together on a consistent basis.
Pomeroy likes the Gophers by 9 and gives them an 82% chance at victory. Vegas likes Minnesota by 8 and a half. I have a tough time seeing Michigan keeping it in single digits, even against a Minnesota team that is trying to find themselves. Let’s hear your thoughts, predictions, and more in the comments.
P.S.: Tim Hardaway Jr.’s Palmetto team picked up a nice district win over Charles Hankerson’s (Alabama) Coral Reef squad last night. Here’s a video interview with Hardaway previewing the game.