Blogging with the Enemy: From The Barn

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 Minnesota’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 Year’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.

Minnesota’s regression on the offensive end also leads to some healthy pessimism. Statistically the Gopher’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 hasn’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 team’s best outside shooter, but also the most likely to commit turnovers. Ahh youth.

Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson are the team’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 Minnesota’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 6’5’’ player would be in trouble.

Why has Minnesota started losing? Are you guys struggling in a certain area?

Minnesota is losing because they aren’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 isn’t expected to, Michigan should win by about seven points.

  • Kenny

    Call me lack of humor but I won’t labal gophers as enemies. Only Spartans and buckeyes qualify.

  • http://fromthebarn.org From The Barn

    They’ll be up soon, I promise!

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  • Giddings

    Those first two answers sound a lot like something that applies to Michigan.

  • Paul

    Michigan 62, Minnesoda 59. I think the Wolves know how important this game is to their tournment chances.

  • Avery Queen

    man did anyone watch any of that psu game? glad it wasn’t on national tv as it would have been an embarrassment to the conference. huge win for psu though and bad news bears for us.

  • AG2

    This was a huge dagger for us. That’s now TWO huge road wins for Penn State. We are quickly becoming the 8th team in the big ten.

  • http://www.umhoops.com Dylan

    Luckily Penn State still has 4 more games… If anything this proves that you have got to play the games. That is 8 wins for PSU… Game against Indiana is a win. Games against Illinois, @Iowa, and @OSU are toss ups. If they win 2 they are at 10-8, does that get them in over a 9-9 Michigan team? Maybe, maybe not.

  • BJ

    plenty of other good news on the bubble though

    Miami loses to FSU
    Providence loses to Louisville
    Utah losing to Colorado St
    VaTech losing to UVa
    Davidson crushed by the Citadel
    Irish lose — they’re basically dead

  • Mith

    WOWZA, 38-33. I am having a hard time processing that one. And I thought the loss to MSU was an ugly game!

    I don’t think a 10-8 Penn State gets in over a 9-9 Michigan. But if PSU gets to 11-7, that might kill us. We might need to sweep Minnesota and give ourselves a chance of edging them out.

  • AG2

    The Miami loss is good, the Va Tech loss is good, Davidson doesn’t matter as long as Curry is healthy again they’ll be back to normal. Utah losing was nice, but the MWC regular season champ has always gotten an at large bid. I just hope that they beat each other up enough that only 2 or 3 mountain west teams make it rather than 4. Man, if San Diego State got in over us, I’d have a whole new disdain for Steve Fisher.

  • AG2

    Dear Lord, did you *see* how red Thad Matta just got?

  • AG2

    Wow, a 21-3 run for Northwestern vs. OSU.

  • http://www.umhoops.com Dylan

    PSU RPI up to 58 after the win.
    Michigan still at 53

  • Erik

    Giddings, I agree. I was reading this interview thinking it sounds a lot like Michigan as far as early results, expectations, and current stagnant offense. Both teams are shaking up their personnel a bit…it will be interesting.

  • Giddings

    I agree that PSU’s win didn’t help our cause, but if you believe what the Tournament committee says (“we don’t evaluate teams based on conference, we don’t pay attention to how many teams there are from a certain conference,” etc) then we can basically just say that this offsets a loss by Virginia Tech, Miami, or Providence.

    If you asked most members of the media and bloggers whether 8 teams could get in from the Big Ten, they would crack up laughing. But we are still the #2 conference in the RPI and we still did all that damage to power teams in the ACC, Big East, Pac-10 and Big 12 in the non-conference schedule (Duke, FSU, Missouri, Louisville, UCLA, etc). And again, if the committee ignores conference “quotas” then Penn State making a run wouldn’t be as bad as we think.

  • steve

    Was the PSU, Illini game the worst in Big Ten history? I was embarrassed to be a part of the conference after that one. I can’t wait to see what Bilas has to say about this one, after he ripped the B10 in his last “article.” Still, it’s going to be tough for PSU to get up to 10 wins. And to top it off, theyre best non conference win was Ga. Tech. The ball is in our court right now, a win tomorrow will get us going in the right direction. Go Blue!

  • Erik

    PSU/ILL wasn’t the worst game in BT history, but it was the lowest scoring one in a few decades. BTN had the official stat but I forgot exactly what year the next lowest point total was (combined score). It was well before I was born.

  • Adam

    I love the RPI boost we will get over the next 2 weeks assuming Iowa doesn’t hurt us too much. It strengthens our resume against PSU and buy would I love to see OSU tank down the stretch.

    For tonight I’m thinking Stu gets hot early which opens things up for Peedi. Minny makes a late run but falls short. Michigan 65-59

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  • alien

    Good post and interesting to read another blogger’s take on their own team. Supposedly RPI will not be considered in tourney selection, per freep article. UM’s wins look better than Minny’s, so this series is particularly impt, but haven’t all of them been? Minny’s size will be a problem as in UM’s prior games. If UM gets behind 10, that could be it. UM needs to put up 40% scoring to win, Harris, Sims + another over 10pts+.

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