BTT Quarterfinals: Michigan vs. Minnesota Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 13 Michigan (23-8, 13-5 B10) vs. Minnesota (19-13, 6-10 B10) minnesota-logo[1]
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, IN)
When: 6:30 p.m. ET, Friday, March 9th, 2012
Radio: MGoBlue, 950AM, 102.9 FM, Sirius/XM 91
More: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket, John Beilein Video, Player Videos, Pick to Click

At least a part of every warm blooded sports fan outside the state of Minnesota with a bit of sympathy was cheering for Northwestern to make its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers, forgotten and neglected by most, had other intentions. Minnesota and Northwestern battled back and forth into overtime before the Wildcats dropped yet another gut wrenching loss. The loss almost certainly cost Northwestern a chance at the NCAA tournament and means that Michigan will face Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal.

First Match-Up

As in the other three Big Ten quarterfinal match-ups, Michigan and Minnesota only played once this season and will be facing off for just the second time. The first time these schools met, all the way back on New Year’s Day, feels like ages ago. Michigan survived with a victory but the margin was around two or three possessions throughout. Trey Burke played one of the best games of his career (and that’s saying something at this point), scoring 27 points on 11 shots, but it was a Tim Hardaway Jr. jump shot from the wing that iced the game late for the Wolverines. Michigan dominated the glass and won the turnover battle despite being out-shot by Minnesota.

Since Then

Michigan enters the game winners of six of its last seven while Minnesota lost six of its last seven leading up to the trip to Indianapolis. Before Minnesota’s win over Northwestern on Thursday night, the Gophers hadn’t beaten a team other than Nebraska since late January.

Given Minnesota’s poor form and the fact that starting big man Ralph Sampson III is sidelined with a knee injury, most didn’t give Minnesota a chance versus Northwestern. It would have been easy to close up shop and head home for the off season but the Gophers responded by playing their best game in months and providing Michigan with plenty to think about this evening.

Keys & Scouting

Make Eliott Eliason defend the pick-and-roll. Trey Burke dominated Minnesota with the pick-and-roll in the first meeting because the Gophers sat back in the lane and allowed Burke to pick them apart. There was no hint of the hard hedge that has given Burke problems this season and the results were damning:

With Sampson likely sidelined, Eliason is one of the only remaining big men left on Tubby Smith’s bench. Eliason played well against Northwestern, grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring four points, but Michigan needs to challenge him with different screen and roll looks. Attack the hedge to draw fouls, hit the mid-range jumper if Eliason plays off, and throw Evan Smotrycz in the game for some pick-and-pop looks.

Rebounding. Michigan dominated the glass on both ends in the first meeting, rebounding 42% of its missed shots and 75% of Minnesota’s misses. Offensive rebounding opportunities are there because Minnesota ranks 10th in the Big Ten on the defensive glass but stopping the Gophers on the offensive glass is a more impressive feat. Minnesota is the third best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and six different Gophers grabbed at least one offensive rebound against Northwestern. Rodney Williams will be the best athlete on the floor but it will also be important to get a body on 6-foot-11, 240 pound Eliason.

Defend the three. Minnesota was able to match Northwestern in three point production, connecting on 11-of-26 triples, and that was one of the primary reasons the Gophers upset the Wildcats. In the first meeting in Ann Arbor, Minnesota was also fortunate behind the three point line, connecting on 8-of-19 threes.

The Gophers were particularly successful by getting the ball into the post and reversing it with a skip pass combined with an off ball screen. For all intents and purposes, Michigan looked particularly hopeless defending that look:

Despite touting the conference’s ninth best offense, Minnesota is actually not a bad perimeter shooting team. Julian Welch (43%), Chip Armelin (42%), Austin Hollins (39%) and Andre Hollins (38%) have all been selective but efficient from three point range in Big Ten play. Michigan will need to adjust to this look that was so successful in the first meeting.

Turnovers. Tubby Smith’s team has struggled down the stretch because they lack the pieces to adapt when their strengths are negated. Without a true creator or go-to player, Minnesota’s offense often appears directionless, resulting in the worst offensive turnover percentage in the Big Ten.

Take away open threes and the result is a collection of players trying to make a play that have a nasty turnover habit and aren’t generally very effective finishing inside. Against Northwestern, freshman guard Andre Hollins emerged as that go-to player, knocking down five threes en route to a career high 25 points, and that seemed to open up the offensive for others. Play solid defense, prevent open threes and eventually the Gophers will be forced to try to create something and make mistakes.

Bottom Line

The first meeting was close but Michigan is a better team than Minnesota on paper. The Gophers have the advantage of having already played a game in Indianapolis but Michigan has had the upper hand when these two teams have met over the last few seasons.

Last year the Wolverines went to Indianapolis knowing that they needed a win and gutted one out against Illinois. Motivation this season is a bit more of a question mark. There’s no ‘Queme los Barcos’ type of desperation, the Wolverines are a good team trying to get better. Michigan has a legitimate chance to make a run at winning the tournament and is also playing for NCAA tournament seeding. With Georgetown and Marquette losing on Thursday, opportunity is there for the Wolverines to move up the seeding curve by Selection Sunday.

If Michigan can find any sort of shooting groove, clean up the defensive glass and force turnovers, the rest should fall into place for a solid opening performance in Indianapolis.

  • Giebz

    I think you meant, with Marquette and Georgetown losing last night.

    • Guest

       Haha he did that on Twitter, too.

      • Giebz

        Small mistake.  As usual, great break down overall.  

  • Alex

    This is the game I am most worried about for motivation and a possibility of looking ahead.

    If we win we would most likely face OSU with a chance at MSU. I don’t think this team needs any additional motivation to play in those games.

    If anything last night proved no team can be overlooked if you want to win the game and I think the seniors and everyone want an outright championship.

  • serious

     What does kenpom predict?

    • Guest

      64-60 Mich has a 68% chance of winning

      • serious

        Thank you.

      • Carcajous

        Isn’t it true, however, that this does not take into account the loss of Sampson?  

  • ScottGoBlue

    Looks like our defensive key should be “take away the 3”.  Doubtful they can outscore us without really good 3-point shooting.  Go Blue!

  • Guest

    On the ESPN score page, it claims that the game is on ESPN3 as well as BTN. Does anyone know if this is accurate?

  • MGoTweeter

    Does Iowa get the team sportmanship award for letting MSU get some extra layup line work in after the game started? 

  • rlcBlue

    Evidently we have passed Georgetown and Marquette on Lunardi’s S-Curve – he now has us as the #3 in the Columbus pod. How many comp tickets does Burke get?

  • Kokbear

    I realize that this is unrelated but after watching a lot of cody zeller off late…i’ve been wondering how does Mitch McGary compare? My impression is that their skill sets are very different but I’m more curious about if the impact that zeller has had could be expected off McGary given their very similar recruiting profiles.

    • Mattski

      Michigan is already (arguably) ahead of where Indiana landed WITH Zeller. They will undoubtedly be a force again in the B1G, however. In fact, it’s hard to see the league dropping off anywhere the next couple of years.  

  • PeteM

    Great preview.

    On another note — does anyone have a suggestion as to where the watch the game in downtown Ann Arbor? My wife and I were hoping to go to Indy today but work etc. intervened.  I know everyplace will have it on but I’d be curious if anyone has a guess as to where people will be paying attention/cheering (I was thinking Conors, the Arena, Bar Louie etc.)

  • Mattski

    Izzo lambastes Illinois’ AD for his handling of the Weber firing, the season-long hotseat Weber was forced to occupy, and–at least from what one learns in this account–he might be right that it sucked: