Game 30: Michigan at Minnesota Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Michigan (17-12) at Minnesota (17-10) MinnesotaLogo2[1]
Where: William Arena, Minneapolis, MN
When: 4:30 PM, Saturday, February 25th, 2011
Radio: MGoBlue / WOMC 104.3 FM / WTKA 1050 AM
Last Game: Minnesota 69, Michigan 64

Michigan heads to the Barn for a battle of bubble teams that could end up an elimination game of sorts. Minnesota has lost six of its last seven games and has seen its once promising tournament hopes collapse after losing both point guards, Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen, to transfer and injury. A month ago, Minnesota was 16-4 and 5-3 in the conference, now they are just 17-10 (6-9). But all hope is not lost in Minnesota. The Gophers three remaining games might be the easiest of any Big Ten team as they host Michigan and Penn State with a road trip to Northwestern. If the Gophers win out, their non-conference wins probably carry enough weight for an NCAA tournament bid. For Michigan, it’s winning time. A loss means that the Wolverines probably need to win the Big Ten Tournament for an NCAA bid.

The Gophers have plenty of big bodies to work with but have found that playing with a lineup full of 7-footers doesn’t always work out. Blake Hoffarber, one of the best shooters in the league, has been relegated to point guard duties in a role that is far from natural for him. Freshmen guards Chip Aremlin, Austin Hollins, and Maverick Ahanmisi are the only other guards left on Minnesota’s active roster. All three guards are athletic but are also generally poor shooters and turnover prone. Swingman Rodney Williams has taken a larger role in the offense but continues to be more of an athlete than a complete basketball player – although it’s worth noting that the 20% three point shooter hit not one but two threes the first time these two teams faced off.


Despite Minnesota’s troubles in the backcourt, there are still some very talented front court players. Trevor Mbakwe is one of the top three rebounders in the league and also gets to the free throw line more often than any other player. An electric athlete, Mbakwe is a match-up nightmare for Michigan at the four position. Ralph Sampson and Colton Iverson are a pair of 6-foot-10 juniors that anchor the post, rebound, and block a ton of shots but can also score when given time and space on the block.

In the post-point guard era, Minnesota has generally gone big, playing Sampson, Iverson, and Mbakwe all at the same time along with Hoffarber and Williams. That’s 6-11, 6-10, 6-8, 6-7, 6-4 across the board. Tubby Smith has typically gone with a 2-3 zone when playing this lineup and all of the height does provide some problems. However, Tubby Smith is still a man-to-man coach which means that, despite their length, this group hasn’t been nearly as proficient in the zone a true zone team like Syracuse.

This lineup also struggles mightily on the offensive side of the ball. You can’t play three guys in the post and there just isn’t the perimeter quickness or, more importantly, shooting ability to make other teams pay. Minnesota’s freshmen guards provide plenty of quickness and athleticism but have also turned the ball over. A lot. Minnesota has turned the ball over on at least 22% of its possessions in each of the last five games.

Minnesota’s offense is the epitome of brute force. The Gophers rank 10th in effective field goal percentage, turnovers, and three point shooting but rank first in offensive rebounding and free throw rate. Minnesota is going to attack, attack, attack and just keep crashing the glass. Defensively, Minnesota is the best shot-blocking team in the Big Ten and also has the best two point defense and second best three point defense.They don’t foul much, but they are just an average defensive rebounding team and rarely force any turnovers.


The first thought is that you have to put Minnesota in an uncomfortable situation and make them turn the ball over. I think this means we will see a fair amount of 1-3-1 zone in this game. The bad news is that Michigan forced turnovers on 28% of Minnesota’s possessions, the Gophers worst mark of the year, in the first game and still lost. Minnesota not only shot the ball extremely well in that game, 68% effective field goal percentage, they also rebounded an impressive 56% of their missed shots. It was just a dreadful defensive performance from Michigan against a team that lost its starting point guard at halftime. If Michigan can’t force the Gophers to miss a few more shots, it’s going to be a long night at the Barn.

Pomeroy’s system likes Minnesota, 66-62 with a 30% chance of an upset. Minnesota looked particularly bad against Michigan State, but the Spartans also play a dramatically different style of basketball that is tailor made to be successful against the Gophers. It’s extremely tough to gauge both teams state of mind after disappointing home losses and knowing that the loser of the game probably has no chances of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large team.

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  • KAB

    We have one are last two games at The Barn so let’s keep it rolling.I think it’s a ugly game but we win..


  • JimC

    We are not going to win the B10 tourney, so this is it.
    I have my doubts about how our team rebounds from gasserization. But hey just playing a game, with any outcome, is a relief.

  • Chris in NC

    You’re probably right JimC. Right now though, we have to win the next 2 and at least 2 B10 tourney games. Anything less and we’re NIT bound. BUT if you had offered me this season and the NIT against the predictions coming in, I would take this anytime! Go get ’em guys!

  • J.D.

    We have to win this one to finish the regular season at 9-9. I was thinking yesterday at work that “assuming” we finish 9-9, it’s not possible for Minny to finish above .500 and unless MSU upsets Purdue they finish 9-9 also, with us having won both meetings and thus, finishing higher in the conference standings.
    Looking at the middle of the packs (Minny, PSU, MSU, ILLINI, U of M) remaining schedule, IF (big IF) we finish 9-9, it’s likely two others teams finish .500 also. MSU and Illini. I think Minny wins 2 of 3 to finish 8-10 and PSU loses both their games to Minny at the barn and OSU to also finish 8-10.
    My point is if we win both games and there is no wild upsets we finish .500 and probably get a 5 seed in the big ten tourney against Illini, which looks good to the selection committee because, only 4 teams in from the big ten is not going to happen and looking over us to a 6 seed like MSU who we have beaten twice is a tough sale also.
    I really hope someone replies to this comment, because I don’t wanna be the last person on the planet who thinks Michigan has a shot.

    • Giddings

      J.D., your train of thought is correct as far as the opportunity to get the 5 seed in the BTT. But I don’t think the selection committee will care whether we are a 9-9 5th seed or a 9-9 6th seed. People love to talk about how many teams a certain conference will get in, but the committee just doesn’t look at that. They also are not obligated to take the 5th place team from a conference over the 6th place team… it happens all the time where a team finishes higher in the standings but fails to get in because of a poor nonconference, etc.

      What WILL make a difference, if we get the 5 seed, is that the “one win” we would need would turn into a quality win (probably over a Top 50 team) rather than a win over Iowa or Indiana. That would also boost our SOS quite a bit. But then again, if we get the 6 seed and beat Iowa/IU in the first round, we could get another shot at Wisconsin in the second round – if we could win that, it would give us a much needed Top 25 win.

    • ScottGoBlue

      Giddings is right, it’s about quality as much as quantity. 2 wins likely puts us at 5-seed in the BTT. That’s two wins over teams who presently have a better resume than us. The 5-seed game likely would be against Illinois. And we would need to win that game, too, in my opinion. That would give us three quality wins in a row at the end of the season, which recolors (positively) the close losses at Illinois and vs. Wisconsin. However, if we lose one or both of these two games, then it confirms to all that we are a decent team whose time hasn’t yet come. Even losing to Illinois in a 5-seed game might do that.

      Winning solves it all.

      Plus, I’d like a rematch with OSU in the BTT. :-)

      • J.D.

        Yeah I took about 30 minutes yesterday to come up with A BTT bracket if we were to win out in the regular season, and came up with exactly the same situation you guys are thinking, MSU playing Iowa/Indy in the opening round as a 6 seed, and U of M playing the Illini as 5 and 4 respectively with a buy into the quarter finals. I was thinking if both MSU and Michigan fail to get into the semifinal and it looks something like: 1, 2, 3, and 4 seed teams all advance. Is that a tough luck situation, where potentially only four teams go to the NCAA tournament? Or, is it a race to the semifinals (probably between MSU and Michigan)? I know the committee looks at RPI, but if Michigan beats MSU in the regular season again and beats Minny at home and MSU also loses to Purdue (which will likely happen) only beating Iowa in their final three games, our RPI rating will be close to theirs probably within 5-8 points, right?

        Anyway thanks for replying, because it’s giving me a headache going over all the situations and scenarios that get us in. From now on I’m taking the Scott position that winning solves it all.

        Right on a OSU rematch, where we crush their spirit, and they lose a first seed in the NCAA tourney. I was talking to buddy of mine and we were debating whether or not Michigan fans would storm the court if we won against Wisconsin. How sweet it would be to beat out MSU for a tournament spot and upset OSU. Might be asking to much.

  • Kenny

    hope the boys can bounce back from the heartbreaking loss. I am still not fully recovered.

    • sven

      I was thinking the same thing Kenny. I still feel like someone ran over my dog right in front of me.

      Hope the kids are more resilient than I am.

    • JimC

      Some idiot rear-ended my car on Thursday morning, then drove away. But I think I felt worse about the game than the hit and run.

  • Brian W

    Really looking forward to the game today.

    Nice story on Demetrius Jackson, a sophomore point guard from Mishawaka, Indiana, who’s hearing from Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and others. Sounds a lot like the movie ‘The Blindside.’ He’s close to setting the single-season scoring record for Marian High School.,0,2225941.story

    Larry Nance’s basketball game was rescheduled from yesterday to today because of a snow storm.

  • AG2

    We need to force turnovers, play a little better defensively inside, run when Minnesota tries to crash the glass, and as is always important with road games, hit your jump shots. Maybe 3 straight wins @ The Barn is too much to ask but we’re a much better team than at our previous meeting, especially on the glass.