Game 18: Michigan at Minnesota Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 5 Michigan (16-1, 3-1 B1G) at No. 9 Minnesota(15-2, 3-1 B1G) Minnesota-Logo[1]
Where: Williams Arena (Minneapolis, MN)
When: 7:00 p.m., Thursday, January 17th, 2013
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, Sirius/XM: 91

Michigan has little time to lick its wounds after losing at Ohio State on Sunday. The Wolverines are back on the road against a yet another top-15 foe, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

After experts proclaimed Minnesota’s greatness in non-conference play only to be disappointed in Big Ten play in each of the past two seasons — The Gophers were a combined 23-2 over the last two non-conference campaigns but just 12-24 in Big Ten play over that span — it finally appears that Minnesota is ready to contend in the Big Ten. Tubby Smith’s team is healthy, has improved its guard play (somewhat) and already a has a pair of nice conference wins (Michigan State at home and at Illinois). Now the Gophers will look to do something they haven’t accomplished since 2008: beat Michigan at home.

John Beilein and Tubby Smith’s teams both have had steady statistical profiles throughout their time at their respective Big Ten schools. Beilein’s teams have been heavy on threes, low on turnovers and weak on the glass. Tubby’s have generally been great rebounding teams blessed with size but handicapped by turnovers. Over the last five seasons, Beilein has won 7-of-10 contests with two of Tubby’s three wins coming in Beilein’s first season. For whatever reason, Beilein’s brand of basketball has matched up well with Tubby’s. This year should be the ultimate test as both coaches enter tonight’s game with rosters that are clearly the most talented of their tenures.

Minnesota’s offense is fueled by the offensive rebound. The Gophers have rebounded an astounding 48 percent of their missed shots this year and are easily the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. Stopping Minnesota on the offensive glass is nearly impossible, limiting the Gophers even a bit is a win in itself. Minnesota is a pretty good shooting team – 52% on twos and 35% on threes – but cashes in at the line with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 45%. To their credit, the Gophers have shot the ball extremely well in Big Ten games both inside (52%, 2nd) and outside (46%). Minnesota’s undoing has been the turnover, the Gophers cough the ball up on 22% of their possessions and a league worst 24% in Big Ten games.

Michigan’s defense is designed to negate the two strengths of Minnesota’s offense but has struggled to exploit the Gophers’ primary weakness. The Wolverines are the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and surrender fewer free throw attempts than any other team in the country. They just don’t force turnovers.

While Minnesota’s offense is the second best in the Big Ten, its defense lags behind, ranking 8th among Big Ten teams in conference games and 17th nationally for the season. The Gophers defensive undoing is ironic given their offensive strength: defensive rebounding. The Gophers allow their opponents to rebound 35% of their missed shots, which ranks 282nd nationally. For whatever reason, consistency on the defensive glass has been absent all season and doesn’t appear to be improving as Indiana recently gouged the Gophers on the offensive glass. The rest of Minnesota’s defensive profile is solid across the board but unspectacular. The Gophers rank in the top-102 spots nationally in terms of forcing turnovers, defending twos and threes, and not sending opponents to the free throw line. Their aggressive style of defense translates into unusually high steal (14.3%, 7th) and block (16.7%, 6th) percentages.

Trey Burke Ten Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals _TywrK2GGbHl[1]Minnesota gets balanced production out of its five starters as all five players average 9.5 points or more per game. Point guard Andre Hollins leads the way at 14.4 points and 3.6 assists per game. Hollins is the best ball-screen scorer in the Big Ten not named Trey Burke. He’s more of a scorer than a distributor and if you go under a ball screen he’ll knock down threes all day long. He’s a 43 percent three point shooter on the season and certainly appreciates the big occasion, scoring 41 points against Memphis earlier this season.

Hollins is joined by another, taller but unrelated, Hollins in the backcourt. Austin Hollins is also a 40 percent three point shooter but he’s much more of a catch-and-shoot threat than an off the dribble three point shooter. Joe Coleman rounds out the backcourt and is more of a power guard, more effective attacking the basket, usually in transition, than shooting jumpers in half court settings. Coleman exploded for 29 points at Illinois but hasn’t been a regular scoring threat for the Gophers.

The Wolverines will have their hands full with the Gopher front line of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. Per Synergy Sports, Mbakwe is the most efficient back to the basket player in the Big Ten with at least 15 post ups, averaging 1.03 points per post up possession. Williams is one of the best shot blockers and offensive rebounders in the Big Ten – but Mbakwe is even better. Both players are great athletes that have been around the block in this league. Williams has transformed himself from a skinny guard without a jumpshot to a four man who’s comfortable with his back to the basket or stepping out to shoot the occasional three. Both players should provide a difficult match-up challenge for Michigan’s front court of Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary.

The contrasting styles of these two programs makes this match-up particularly intriguing. Is Michigan’s improved rebounding attack good enough to not only slow Minnesota on the offensive glass but exploit the Gophers’ weak defensive rebounding? The Wolverines have been able to get the best of this match-up in the past despite being dominated on the glass so that could be an important feather in the cap. For all the talk of Trey Burke struggling (at times) against Ohio State in his career, he’s destroyed the Gophers. Burke averaged 28.5 points and three assists in two games last season with a remarkable 86% effective field goal percentage.

Ken Pomeroy projects a 71-67 Minnesota win, giving the Gophers a 63% chance of remaining perfect at home. This is Michigan’s only shot against the Gophers and it’s an important game for a Michigan program that didn’t lose consecutive games until the end of last season. A loss would put Michigan two games back in the loss column with road trips to Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin remaining on the docket. A win would send the Wolverines into their bye weekend with renewed confidence before hosting Purdue.

  • Man I’m nervous

    • ChathaM

      Save the nerves for March, when the guys are playing a team that they should handle on paper, but are struggling with because one of their kids in on fire from behind the 3 point line in a win-or-go-home tournament setting. That’s the time to be nervous fan. Games like tonight; just like Sunday; and just like any number of other regular season games we’ll see; these are the games to sit back and enjoy. Two top 10 teams battling it out, with even the loser living to fight another day, is pure fun to watch.

  • matzio

    surprising prediction from Ken. I think Mich comes out firing down shots and never looks back. they have a lot to prove after our outing with osu

    • David

      Given his methodology, predicted result isn’t really that surprising. Minnesota is 5th, us 7th in his rankings and they are at home so they get a bump. Wisky is 12th and MSU 18th, without having subscription to his service to look at individual game probabilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were “projected” to lose those 2 road games as well. Indiana is currently 4th, I bet we are projected to be a huge underdog in the game at Assembly.

      • rlcBlue

        Actually, Michigan is 5th and Minnesota 7th, but your point is correct.

        As of today, KenPom makes us a 1 point underdog in Madison and a 6 point underdog in Bloomington; we’re a 2 point favorite in East Lansing and a 6 point favorite in Champaign. The projection for the conference race is the Hoosiers at 14-4 pursued by Gophers, Badgers, and Wolverines at 13-5, and a pile of horse chestnuts at 12-6.

    • geoffclarke

      Or Minnesota comes out focused and doesn’t turn the ball over and never looks back. They have a lot to prove after their outing at Indiana.

      • This game is undeniably huge for Minnesota. Conference contenders can’t afford to lose games at home.

  • David

    Coming into this 9 game stretch starting at OSU, I would have been thrilled with 6-3, and happy with 5-4given the 6 road games, plus return game with OSU. Gotta get this one or we most likely would need to win 2 of the 4 at Illinois, IU, Wisky and MSU just for 5-4.

  • gpsimms

    Some people have said that Minnesota’s athleticism make s a tough matchup for us. And of course, it’s always better to play a slow, unathletic team than a quick, explosive one. Howeva, OSU/Nebraska really laid off the offensive glass because of how dangerous we are in transition.

    If Minnesota crashes the glass, which I assume they will, it will be a net negative for them. We have the athleticism to keep them under 50%, and it will net us more opportunities in transition than it gets them second chance points, I’ll wager.

    I like us to come back from a tough loss in this one.

  • JimmyZ5

    Typo about their defense? How can they be 8th in the conference but 17th nationally?

    • 8th in conference games against conference opponents. 17th nationally overall in all games. Sorry that was unclear.

      • rlcBlue

        Even in the overall rankings 3 B1G teams are ahead of the Gophers. It’s a tough conference…

  • Mattski

    Is this the toughest squad Michigan has faced? Possibly. But we don’t match up badly against them and–overall–I think we’ve got more talent. Let’s see how our very youthful squad comes out after OSU.

    I know that we’re playing for a Big Ten title, but if I crunch this team’s youthfulness with the fact that Trey Burke is likely gone, it seems to me that the real thing to hope for is that the squad keeps improving very methodically toward a deep NCAA run. I’ll be disappointed by losses to anybody at home, but if we play smart/competitive away can one really ask for more?

    • DoubES

      I am starting to think the same way you are with respect to the Big Ten title. You probably have to win some tough road games (though that wasn’t really the case last year) and with a young team that seems even harder to do.

      On that last point, I would love to see if there is a correlation between team age and road win/loss records. That would be interesting.

  • mikey_mac

    Home court will be a huge edge for Minnesota in this one. We need a big shooting night from THJ or Stauskas on an unfamiliar court. We’ll also need tough man defense to limit help rotations. I like our chances of limiting their o-rebs if we can do that. If not, it will be a long night of put-back dunks and the sort. Let’s hope GRIII can stay in front of Williams.

  • rlcBlue

    My two keys to the game:

    How many minutes will McGary play? Mitch is going to foul out – he commits 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes and Mbakwe draws 6.1 – but the difference between his playing 15 and 25 minutes could be the difference between winning and losing.
    How many turnovers will Burke make? Minnesota is great at forcing turnovers. Trey’s pre-Columbian decision making was tremendous. Will he snap back to his old form or suffer a hangover vs. the Gophers?
    Half of Burke’s tOSU TOs came from trying to lob passes over Sam Thompson. If he tries to lob a pass over Rodney Williams tonight, I will be very disheartened.

  • Mandingo

    Man, this is a tough one. I have a hard time seeing UM pulling it out, but I think the Wolverines will put on a more complete performance than they did against OSU. It’s just that I think Minnesota is a good bit better than the Buckeyes. UM can lose this one and still be in the race for the B1G Championship, but I feel like this is the sort of game that comes into play when the Committee’s deciding between a 1 seed and a 2 seed (hopefully Michigan will be in that position eventually). It’s also a good yardstick game– even if UM loses, if they can hold their own on the boards, that bodes very well for them in the postseason.