|Who: Michigan (17-7, 7-4 B1G) at Minnesota (6-17, 0-11 B1G)|
|Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, MN|
|When: 9:00 p.m., February 10th, 2016|
|Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM|
Three weeks ago, Michigan coasted to a never quite in doubt, but never comfortable win over Minnesota at home. That was the first warning sign that the Wolverines weren’t playing quite the caliber of basketball that they did a week earlier beating Maryland. After a few more sloppier-than-expected wins over bottom half teams, Michigan was blown out twice by Indiana and Michigan State at home. Now the Wolverines aren’t worried about style points, they’re worried about wins anyway they can get them.
Minnesota has been worried about wins all season, but it has only won a single game since November. The Gophers, 0-11 in conference play, have been close to stealing a win at times, but the Big Ten has been unforgiving in Richard Pitino’s third season in Minneapolis.
Minnesota has the Big Ten’s second worst offense and second worst defense. The Gophers are scoring just .94 points per possession while allowing opponents to score 1.12 points per trip. That’s not Rutgers-bad, but it’s not far off. Minnesota had shown improvement on the defensive side of the ball through much of January, holding five opponents — including Michigan — below its per-possessions season-averages defensively. That improvement went by the way-side last week when Northwestern ran up 82 points on just 65 possessions.
Free throws are the life-blood of Minnesota’s offense given its problems shooting the ball. The Gophers are shooting just 47% on twos (11th), 29% on threes (13th) for a 45.6 effective field goal percentage (12th). While they attempt 36 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (4th), they are shooting just 67% at the stripe (12th). The Gopher roster is loaded with players that can beat their man off the dribble but not really shoot, which means they struggle to score when the foul count is down.
Minnesota’s defense is ranked 11th or worse in eFG% allowed, defensive rebounding rate and free throw rate. The lone bright spot has been a statistic that’s generally referred to as luck — three-point defense. But after shooting just 29% against the Gophers 4th ranked three-point defense, Michigan knows the challenges it could face against the Gophers’ length on the perimeter. The Gophers allow 55.3% two-point shooting, but only 41.8% of opponents’ field goal attempts come inside the arc.
Sophomore point guard Nate Mason turned the first matchup on its head with his ability to get to the rim. Mason went for a season-high 25 points against Michigan, but has also been in double-figures three of the last four games since. He’s ranked 4th in the Big Ten in assist rate and values the basketball, but shoots a pedestrian 43% on twos and 30% on threes. Given Michigan’s issues with help defense, the onus will be on Derrick Walton to try to keep Mason out of the paint.
Senior guard Carlos Morris joins Mason in the backcourt and is a spurtable scorer with size. Morris is shooting 31% on threes in Big Ten play and lost his starting spot in January, although he did play a crucial role in Minnesota’s late first half run that got the Gophers back into the game in Ann Arbor.
6-foot-6 freshman Jordan Murphy is an undersized post finisher, cutter, rebounder and shot blocker. He finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds and three blocks in the first meeting, and he does a great job of providing an outlet around the rim for Minnesota’s driving guards.
Dupree McBrayer has emerged as a foul magnet for the Gophers. He’s very hard to stay in front of despite the fact that he’s shooting just 40% on twos and 25% on threes. He can pass the ball very well and ranks 4th in the Big Ten in free throw rate, attempting 68 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.
6-foot-9 junior Charles Buggs starts at the four spot. Buggs has had a limited role in the Gopher offense, shooting 55% on twos and 20% on threes and hasn’t reached double-figures in conference play. 6-foot-11 big man Bakary Konate played a season-high 35 minutes against Northwestern. He’s predominantly a shot blocker and finisher (58%) with a limited role in the offense.
Senior stretch four Joey King is really Minnesota’s only perimeter shooter of note at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds. He’s shooting 41% on threes in Big Ten play but just 29% on twos. He had a quiet game against Michigan and is just 1-of-7 from long distance over the last three games.
- Contain dribble penetration: Minnesota gashed Michigan with dribble-penetration in the second half of the first matchup and the Wolverines will need a more cohesive effort on the perimeter to limit that attack. Drives into the lane lead to fouls, easy layups or drop-off passes and the Wolverines can’t get by allowing that from a Gopher offense that needs free throws to survive.
- Inside offense: Minnesota does a great job of forcing its opponents to shoot threes and oftentimes they miss. For Michigan’s offense to get back on track, it’ll need to create some easy twos to open things up. Michigan shot just 44% on twos in the first meeting and a few early buckets for Mark Donnal on the roll or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on the drive could open things up and help the threes start falling.
- Big or small: In the first meeting, Minnesota made an adjustment over the course of the game to play smaller and I’d expect to see more of that. Minnesota’s bigs aren’t really good enough to overwhelm the Wolverines inside and the multi-guard lineups were effective for the Gophers on offense with penetration and on defense against the Wolverines’ spread offense.
The last game was a curious affair that saw Michigan take multiple double-digit leads in the first half and then allow the Gophers to pull within three with under 10 minutes left in the second.
Michigan is the better team on paper, but the Wolverines are in a tough spot mentally and the Golden Gophers will be hungry for their first Big Ten win of the season. KenPom projects a 75-68 Michigan victory, giving Michigan a 75% chance at picking up its 8th Big Ten win.