Game 31: Michigan at Minnesota Preview

Dylan Burkhardt

: 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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  • Jblue

    Turnovers won it for us today. Minnesota had a higher FG%, FT%, and splattered us on the board. UM had 11 rebounds all game; no player on Michigan had more than 2.

  • Mith

    OH WOW!!! I think we’re dancing, regardless, but let’s win one in the BTT just to be sure.

    Back when they had to win 4 of 6 to have a shot, I didn’t know if they could do it. And then they lost to Iowa and I figured NO WAY they’d when 2 of those 3. But dang it, they did. Heck, they could have easily won all 6.

    Let’s go to the BTT, win a few and have some fun.

  • gooter9

    We did it. We’re going dancing.

  • jmblue


    These guys, from Beilein on down, deserve all the credit in the world for keeping their composure after falling down 10-12 points multiple times. We don’t have the most size but we have incredible heart. GO BLUE!

  • AG2

    I’m so proud of this win. This team is just so outmatched in size and they’ve been told so many times they’re not a legit tournament team but they pulled it out with the biggest shots of them all. I love these guys, they are IN.

    But before we get ahead of ourselves, we’ve got a really really sweet setup for the Big Ten Tournament now. We’ve clinched no lower than 7th, and we won’t see MSU till the title game, which we can make if we beat Iowa, Penn State, and Illinois in the first 3 rounds!

  • El Capitan

    I have never been so excited for Michigan basketball in my life!

  • Other Matt

    So this is what a good Michigan team feels like. I’m so proud of the heart we showed in the 2nd half. It’s so weird to watch a Michigan team I actually like. This is a perplexing feeling. Let’s go dancing!

  • Yinka Double Dare

    “Turnovers won it for us today. Minnesota had a higher FG%, FT%, and splattered us on the board. UM had 11 rebounds all game; no player on Michigan had more than 2.”

    Don’t forget the 3-ball. We went 9-22 from 3. They were only 2-10, so our eFG% was actually higher than theirs.

  • Sid

    BTW, Minnesota shot 55 percent from the field today.

  • Ian
  • bentley

    i feel like this team could really sore now… confidence is probably at an all time high, NCAA monkey is probably off the back lets go to the BTT and make some noise… great win… heart pounding, but I will take it

  • Avery Queen

    Dave – How about the play he drew up for the LLP 3 in the wing which got us back in the game?

    I also want to give credit to Merritt today, not so much for his play, but for a hell of a pregame speech. This game came down to exactly what he talked about and they did it.

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    I’ve been too busy celebrating my little white buns off, so I forgot to say WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! I literally prayed every idle second of that game. What an unbelievable win. I had already slipped into deep depression, and not it’s pure jubilation. I might get alcohol poisoning today. It’s not even noon here!

  • Paul

    Fantastic!!!! Got to let em in now. I feel like Dancin!!

  • Avery Queen

    let’s go buckeyes and clean up the mess at 9-9 and make our selection a little clearer.

  • blueinflorida

    Hail! Hail! never been more proud. awesome win.

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    The question now is, how many times am I going to watch this game in the next 4 hours?

  • Chris

    Did you all notice Manny pushing Grady into position in the first half when — once again — he went the wrong way on a screen?

    Just a note for the “Why doesn’t Kelvin play more?” question. His teammates know the answer to that.

  • Kris

    What are the current BTT Seeding scenarios now with only PSU@Iowa, PU@MSU, NU@OSU, & IU@UW left?

  • Ken in Las Vegas

    As much as I wanted to scream out for Grady, I held my tongue on this one. Would we have won with Grady in the game? Maybe Beilein deserves some credit for sticking to his guns. We can talk about how he’s coached us out of games, but it’s far more probable that he just coached us into the Big Dance for the first time in 10 years. We were 10-22 last year. Amazing.

  • Avery Queen

    chris – did you notice kelvin contribute very solid minutes creating turnovers playing great on the ball/in your face defense, while also playing with poise on offense? he broke the press and meanwhile our team got back into the game. did you also notice that every player that got minutes on both teams made mistakes?

    bottom line is merritt, lee, and grady all gave solid minutes today and all deserved the playtime they got. quit trying to harp on grady just to pad your argument on same goes for everyone that thinks grady is always the answer to everything.

  • Motor City D

    Why is Beilein NOT being talked for coach of the year after this turn around?

  • amfm

    I have to respectfully disagree Avery….Go Northwestern. In a 4 way tie between us, Minny, OSU and NW, Michigan comes out on top with the 4-2 record. That gives us an opening round game against Indiana rather than Iowa. I think the scenario where we play Iowa and Penn St. is intriguing, but I’d rather play the worst team in the big ten to really seal our bid. If we lose to Iowa in the opening round and enough bubble teams make a push in conference tourneys, we could be right back on that edge of the bubble.

    Besides, it just feels more natural to root against the buckeyes.

  • jmblue

    Kudos to Beilein for continuing to believe in LLP. Certainly, a lot of us were wondering if he should still see the floor. He carried this team for long stretches today.

  • Dave

    Seth Davis on CBS just said that “Michigan punched their ticket, they got their big win on the road, they’re going to the tournament.”

  • Dave

    beilein should definitely be talked about for coach of the year ill agree with that as well

    avery queen… play was solid but we could have sealed that game up with a better play than a long distance manny 3 and how about the iowa game which would have possibly locked up a tourney birth 3 games ago instead of another long ass manny 3………long distance 3 point shots when all we need is a 2 doesnt make sense to me

  • Dave

    that is one of the reasons beilein bothers me………i just dont care for some of his thoughts some times……however michigan making the tourney is a coach of the year guarentee or should be at least

  • Sam

    Just a side note, but did anyone else notice that Colton Iverson didn’t play today? Or if he did, it was very little. Not sure what happened there, but it doesn’t matter now! We’re Dancincg!