It turns out that Michigan fans aren’t the only ones going through a tough time these days. Minnesota is another one of the 12 preseason top 25 teams that find themselves unranked right now (although Michigan is the only one with a losing record). Jonathan, of From the Barn, agreed to answer a couple questions about Minnesota’s season to date and what Michigan should expect on Thursday.
I also answered a few questions, which you can find right here.
There are plenty of parallels between Michigan and Minnesota’s seasons. Both teams have third year coaches coming off of NCAA appearances and were ranked highly in the preseason. What happened this year in Minnesota?
Off the court issues have finally caught up to Minnesota. Right now, with the absence of Trevor Mbakwe, Royce White, and Al Nolen, the Gophers are missing three probable starters. The team was playing pretty well until the lost Nolen because of academics, but without the starting point guard and the only real lock down perimeter defenders, the Gophers have struggled.
What is the mentality up there? By my eyes, Minnesota appears to be just barely holding on to the bubble… Is this correct?
Ask me how things are after the game on Thursday. There is a fair amount of frustration among the players and the fans. Things just haven’t gone as planned and no one is happy about it. The good news is that Minnesota’s schedule is set up very nicely for a big run to end the season. Winning cures just about everything in college basketball. The Gophers have the potential to win their last eight games, and a decent chance of winning six of eight. That would give the Gophers 11 conference wins. If they can’t put that run together, it is going to be a long off-season.
If you were game planning versus your Gophers, what three things would you look to exploit?
Defensively the Gophers are susceptible to three point shooting, which should be good news to Michigan fans. The Gophers have also struggled against zone defenses, particularly against the 1-3-1. Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber have been shooting well, but every possession against a zone is an adventure, and most defenses are happy forcing a rushed three pointer, even if it occasionally goes in. Finally, the Wolverines would be wise to prepare for the press. It is not as formidable as it once was, but can still cause teams to make odd decisions and stupid mistakes. It can also lead to some easy baskets for well-prepared teams.
With your ridiculously deep roster, who are the most important faces to remember for Michigan fans?
That deep roster is looking pretty shallow these days.Once Nolen left the line changes disappeared. Four Gophers played 29 minutes or more against Penn State and four played at least 36 minutes against Penn State. That being said, there are still some important minutes left for the bench. Paul Carter averages six points per game in about 15 minutes per outing and is slasher with a decent jump shot. Colton Iverson is a big body that is in there for toughness and rebounding. Rodney Williams has the most potential of anyone on the team, but sometimes struggles to find a role in the offense. When he does figure things out, he’ll be special.
Who has stepped up to fill the hole left by Al Nolen’s academic suspension?
Devoe Joseph and Lawrence Westbrook have both taken on different roles to try to fill that gaping hole. Joseph is the team’s new starting point guard. He played back up point guard last season with the goal of converting him to a shooting guard. That plan is on hold for at least a year. Westbrook has received a lot of criticism for not being a team player and looking for his own shot first, but he is looking for teammates a lot more lately and is averaging 3.5 assists over the last four games. Last season he averaged 1.4 assists per game.
Prediction for Thursday’s game?
Can both teams lose? I’m not feeling good at all about Minnesota’s chances in any remaining games, especially against a team so well suiting, theoretically at least to beat the Gophers. Since there are no ties in basketball, I think the Gophers will win by five points or so, though with the mental make up of both teams, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a blow out either way.