Game 20: Minnesota at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Minnesota (14-4) at Michigan (11-8) MinnesotaLogo2[1]
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: January 22nd, 2011, 7:00 PM
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: MGoBlue / WOMC 104.3 FM / WWWW 102.9 FM / Sirius 90 / XM 196
Opposition Blog: From the Barn
Pick to Click

Over the last two seasons, Michigan has dominated Minnesota in an almost inexplicable fashion. The Wolverines have topped the Gophers in four straight games despite being underdogs in three of the four contests. Michigan’s wins have been important, namely the 2009 game at the Barn that cemented Michigan’s NCAA tournament bid. The last four wins over Minnesota have all ended Michigan losing streaks of two or three games. When the goings been tough, playing Minnesota has been just what the doctor ordered for the Wolverines.

Now here we are again. Michigan limps into the game in a hapless manner, trudging through a five game losing streak. On the other hand, Minnesota brings the more talented team to Ann Arbor on a two game winning streak and is ranked 15th in the country. Will Michigan top Minnesota again or will Michigan reminisce about catch phrases like “Queme Los Barcos” rather than looking forward to the rest of the season.


Minnesota’s top 15 ranking somewhat masks the Gophers’ tumultuous season. The Gophers beat North Carolina and West Virginia before Thanksgiving and were immediately declared national contenders. A home loss to a mediocre Virginia team, an injury to Al Nolen, and DeVoe Joseph’s personal issues forced the Gophers to slowly fade out of the national spotlight. Nolen recovered in time for Big Ten play but Joseph was dismissed from the team and the Gophers now sit at 3-3 after a difficult early conference schedule. Minnesota lost at Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State but notched home wins over Indiana, Purdue, and Iowa. Minnesota has a favorable conference schedule down the stretch and surviving the middle portion of the schedule could set up an intriguing finish.

Minnesota’s offense is very good because the Gophers do two things as well as anyone in the league: rebound their missed shots and get to the free throw line. Minnesota is the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, pulling down 39% of its missed shots. Over the course of the season, the Gophers have traveled to the free throw line more often than any other Big Ten team with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 48%. Despite frequent trips to the line, Minnesota makes just 66% of its free throw attempts, 264th nationally. Minnesota converts a high percentage of twos, 52%, but shoots a more average 33% from three point range. Turnovers are also a problem as the Gophers cough it up on 1 out of every 5 possessions.

Minnesota’s identity is also well defined on the defensive end: block shots, defend twos, and don’t foul. Opponents shoot just 41% from two point range versus the Gophers but manage to connect on 36% of their threes. Minnesota blocks an astounding 17% of its opponents shots, a mark that ranks 5th nationally, thanks to three of the Big Ten’s top ten shot blockers (Sampson, Mbakwe, and Iverson). The drawbacks to the Gopher defense are that Minnesota is just average on the defensive glass and rarely forces turnovers.

Photo Credit: Rick Burtzel

Personnel wise it all starts with the uber-athletic power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe is not just a rebounding machine, he also converts 61% of his two point attempts while getting to the line more often than any other player in the Big Ten (FTA/FGA 89%). His only real weakness is that he shoots just 61% from the free throw line. Mbakwe is joined down low by juniors Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson. Sampson averages 10 points per game and has above average scoring ability with his back to the basket but is known more for his shot blocking prowess. Iverson isn’t quite as efficient of a scorer as Sampson but he is a stronger rebounder and also a competent shot blocker.

When Minnesota needs a basket, it is typically Blake Hoffarber that answers the call. Hoffarber shoots 40% from three point range and also knocks down a respectable 52% of his twos. The difference between Hoffarber this year and previous years is that he’s developed into a legitimate setup man, assisting 25% of the made field goals while he’s on the floor. Hoffarber is joined in the backcourt by Al Nolen, a slashing guard that has scored almost half of his points (56 of 118) at the free throw line and shoots 36% on twos and 30% on threes.

6-foot-7 Rodney Williams has NBA athleticism and is projected in some mock drafts but the sohpomore’s offensive game continues to lag behind his raw talents. Williams shoots 59% on twos thanks to his ability slashing to the hoop but has made just 2 of 23 threes and shoots 50% at the free throw line.

The strengths of Michigan’s defense directly correlate to the strengths of Minnesota’s offense. Minnesota’s offense thrives crashing the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line while Michigan’s defense is based on defensive rebounding and limiting opposition free throw attempts. Michigan’s offense is constructed to exploit a weakness in Minnesota’s defense, as Michigan prefers to shoot the three point shot and the long ball is the primary weakness of the Minnesota defense. If Michigan is able to win some of these critical statistical battles — defensive rebounding, free throw attempts, and three point shooting — the Wolverines should have a chance to win this game down the stretch.

Pomeroy likes Michigan, barely, predicting Michigan to win, 66-65, with a 55% chance at the win. That’s about as close as it gets in terms of predictions so it’s safe to say that this one is a toss up. Nobody is quite sure where this team is at mentally after a trying 1-6 record over the last several weeks.

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  • sullycu

    Hopefully we can get a “W” here and there to avoid overly embarrassing statistics.

    Great post, but the only minor thing is that when you click on michigan’s record it goes to IU’s Kenpom page..not a big deal, but just wanted to let you know

  • maxwell’s demon

    Smot trying to guard Mbakwe sounds like a potential disaster. Perhaps we see more of Colton tonight?

    • MikeSal

      This is the one game where playing Morgan and Horford together might be a good idea. Minny has a lot of size

      • Dylan Burkhardt

        Perhaps, but Michigan has played small ball for two years with Novak at the four and Minnesota has had a huge size advantage there in all four games. Food for thought.

        • MikeSal

          Good point but those game were also played with an underdeveloped Sampson and Iverson. I think Minny will pose different problems for us then in the past especially with how the bigs defended the pick and role last time out

      • Tweeter

        highly doubt we see that combo. For one, I am not sure it really makes us any better on defense. Neither Morgan nor Horford have shown the ability to lock down opposing big men. It might give us a slight boost on the boards but Novak is still our top rebounder. Two, neither has played at the four before and they probably have not practiced there. Doing it now would only further disrupt the offense while offering only a small benefit at best at the other end of the floor.

        Plus with Minnesota’s ability to pressure the last thing this team needs is to put another non-ballhandler out there and force more pressure on to Morris to make plays. I think the team is what it is what right now and we just gotta hope they improve and find some things that work on D with the current rotation.

        • MikeSal

          I just worry about them out rebounding us on the defensive glass. Hopefully tomorrow night a little home cooking will do the trick

  • Colby

    Did Colton’s hamstring injury really hamper his development? Wasn’t the talk in the summer that he could potentially start over Evan and everyone was surprised by his play. By the sounds of it he was going to be a contributor and that obviously has not happened.

  • Jeff

    Please, please do not leave Hoffarber open (and hope that he’s off) like they did with Shurna, Taylor, Smith, etc. UofMs knack for leaving hot shooters wide open needs to end with this game. Mbakwe is going to be a huge headache. Let’s hope instead of seeing two fouls on Morgan and Smotrycz ten minutes in, we’ll be seeing it on Minnesota’s three bigs. Let’s also hope that UofMs great success against Tubby wasn’t all due to Sims and Harris.

  • AG2

    Perhaps Minnesota’s crashing the glass will help Michigan get more shots down low. The best way to score on a zone is to run past it. That being said, Michigan isn’t forcing as many turnovers as in the past, and Trevor Mbakwe seems to have been the piece that takes Minnesota from a bubble team to a contender.

    Minnesota 67
    Michigan 59

  • ZRL

    Darius is going to have a HUGE game scoring and dishing in transition. Minnesota crashes the boards with reckless abandon to the point where every rebound equals a free fast break. Of course, this is all dependent on our defense actually causing Minnesota to miss shots in the first place. Hopefully the team is still together mentally and can put on a strong performance.

  • KAB

    For some reason we are a different team at home..So I think we have luck on our side and win a close one.

    UM 68
    Minny 66

  • Skinzkid

    I really think we win this one. We are def. due aren’t we….

  • Pregame thoughts on Michigan from a Minnesota perspective:

    • Jeff

      That was kind of funny. He really goes after Stu, Morgan and Vogrich.

    • catwoman

      From the article, “Take it to his stupid face.” regarding Morgan. Maybe someone should tell the author Jordan’s an engineering major??? I hope UM crushes them!!

  • wayman britt

    Since Beilein runs a perimeter 3 point shooting offense and we supposely have a bunch of 3 point shooters, can we have a game where we actually shoot over 40% behind the arc!!

    • Jeff

      45% against OSU, 40% against PSU, almost did it against Wisconsin with 38% and Purdue with 39%. How quickly we forget. I realize it’s tough to remember past the last two games. They were rough ones.

  • grandchamp

    Michigan favored by 2.

    Purdue favored by 6.