Who: Michigan (13-15, 6-10) vs. Minnesota (17-11, 8-8)
Minnesota’s early February loss to Michigan might end up being the turning point in the Gophers’ season. After a home loss to a struggling Michigan team, Minnesota was on the mat with their bubble seemingly burst. This was the tune from Minnesota-folk after that loss:
I came into yesterday’s game with above-average expectations for a team that, for the most part, has underachieved all season. They’d been up and down for the better part of the last month but were coming off a stretch where they had won two of three and seemed to have been gaining some momentum after an exciting Penn State finish. A win over a struggling, down-on-their-luck Wolverines squad at home was going to propel the Gophers into a season-saving finish that would land them in the Big Dance. Minnesota, instead, virtually demolished any hope of saving a spot in the field of 65 and, barring a miraculous turnaround, all but stamped their ticked to the NIT…maybe.
But now Minnesota is back on track. What changed? Minnesota plays zone.
Now the Gophers have gone big, gone zone, and gone on a 3-1 run with only a one point loss to Purdue. Back on the bubble, the Gophers aren’t likely to come out flat again like they did against the Wolverines. They can’t afford to. They also can’t afford to let Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims play two on five and dominate. Thanks to the zone the driving lanes won’t be open, and whomever is stuck guarding Sims will have automatic weak side help.
Tuesday’s game will come down to what every game since the zone switch comes down to, hoping and praying that the threes don’t fall.
So there you have it. Minnesota is going to dare Michigan to do the one thing they haven’t been able to do all season long. Shoot the three. Michigan has shown heart down the stretch but they have been unable to close out close games and they remain painfully unable to shoot the ball at a respectable rate.
I previewed Minnesota extensively the first time around (first with an interview and then with a traditional preview) so we will keep it a bit light this time around.
Minnesota is typically thought of as a defensive team but they have actually been more efficient on the offensive side of the ball in conference play. Minnesota is great shooting team. They shoot 50.4% on two point shots and a blistering 39.9% on threes. Minnesota doesn’t turn it over much (19% of possessions) but they also don’t get to the free throw line very often. Finally, Minnesota is respectable on the offensive and defensive glass but not overpowering.
Defensively, Minnesota has changed a bit with their switch to the zone defense. In their past four games, Minnesota’ opponents are turning the ball over on only 11.7% of possessions. This is obviously because of Minnesota’s zone, the Gophers aren’t pressuring the ball nearly as much. I tend to think this is bad news for Michigan. Michigan typically protects the ball well, even against aggressive defenses. By not pressuring the ball, Minnesota has the length and athleticism to be able to sit back and wreak havoc in the paint.
Here’s a quick breakdown of Minnesota’s main personnel:
- Devoe Joseph: The new starting point guard is solid and loves the pull up jump shot.
- Blake Hoffarber: 48% three point shooter who just can’t be left open.
- Lawrence Westbrook: Clutch. Westbrook is the Gophers leading scorer and he seems to always make the big shots down the stretch.
- Ralph Sampson: The big man is a great shot blocker but still developing offensively but he did have a monster 21 points (7-11) 7 rebound game versus Purdue.
- Damian Johnson: Long and athletic, Johnson is one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. He blocks shots, gets steals, and crashes the glass.
- Paul Carter: Backup wing forward that killed Michigan in the first meeting, hit 4 of 5 shots for 11 points in 23 minutes.
The key for Michigan is going to be to hit the three. Michigan hasn’t fared well against teams that pack it in and dare them to shoot. Hopefully they are well prepared for the zone but even if they are, it still comes down to execution. Michigan has seemingly had Minnesota’s number over the past two seasons so it would be nice if they could figure out a way to beat them once more and come out victorious on senior night.
Vegas likes Minnesota by one while Pomeroy’s projections take Minnesota by two with a 41% chance of Michigan victory. Lets hear your thoughts, predictions, and whatever else in the comments.