Game: Michigan vs. Minnesota
Location: The Barn; Minneapolis, MN
Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-2)
The Schedule So Far: The Gophers missed out on a pair of solid back to back wins in late November, dropping games to Syracuse and Arkansas. The Cuse game was close until the very end and Minnesota was probably still hungover from that game the next day when it got beaten easily by Arkansas.
In the solid win department, Minnesota has also beaten Florida State and Richmond. The rest of the schedule is a bunch of also-rans.
Minnesota doesn't have any particular statistical category in which it dominates, but overall the Gophers are playing both solid offense and defense. This is in contrast to last year's team which was phenomenal on the offensive glass. Despite the switch to a full court press defense, Minnesota is actually below the D-1 average in adj tempo, but the Gophers are 11th nationally in steal rate and 50th in defensive TO%.
Guard Andre Hollins (6'2 Jr.) has been leading the way for this offense so far. He is dominating possessions and shooting the ball well from both the line and outside (his 2pt% is dragging his overall numbers down, mostly because he is taking only 17% of his shots at the rim). He is still sporting a good assist rate and low turnover number, which has helped keep him effective on the floor.
Also in the backcourt is Austin Hollins (6'4 Sr.) who is reprising his role as an effective off ball scorer who has helped quite a bit with defense, posting solid block and steal rate numbers so far this year.
A big boost to Minnesota's offense this year has been transfer point guard Deandre Mathieu (5'9 Jr.). He has been a very effective scorer and does so by getting to the rim (48% of his shots are at the rim) and making baskets at a solid rate (65%. He also thrives in the pressure defense, leading the team in steal%.
Oto Osenieks (6'8 Jr.) and Elliott Eliason (6'11 Jr.) have stepped into the roles in the frountcourt. Both are rebounders that bring less in terms of dynamic offensive ability. Eliason does have very good shotblocking numbers. This is a different look than last year's hyper-athletic frontcourt, but this year's version has proven to be effective and is actually helping the Gophers do a better job on the defensive glass than a year ago.
Keys For Michigan: The important thing for Michigan will be dealing with the press defense that new coach Richard Pitino has brought to campus. Michigan under John Beilein has been superb at holding onto the ball and not allowing turnovers, even against hyper aggressive teams, but this will be a challenging road environment and mistakes could easily snowball.
Past that the general question of "how can Michigan continue to win without Mitch McGary?" looms large. The Wolverines have shown potential thanks to solid games from the three sophomore wing players, but most of the month of January is going to be this team adjusting while trying to navigate one of the toughest conferences in the country.
Outlook: Kenpom currently gives the edge to Minnesota by two points in this game, but that doesn't take into account the McGary injury or Michigan's issues away from home. While Michigan has the talent to steal a win in Minneapolis, it will depend on the team getting a good game out of Glenn Robinson III, who has been up and down in the early season. My gut tells me Michigan won't have enough to get the win on the road. I'd like to be proven wrong.