Date: March 1st
Location: Crisler Center
Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-11, 7-9)
Last Meeting: In the first meeting Michigan outlasted Minnesota in a low-possession (61) slugfest in which the Wolverines were badly outrebounded. Michigan pulled down just 17% of its misses while allowing Minnesota to grab nearly half of its misses (44.1 OR%). Offensively, Michigan was led by Jon Horford (14 points 9 rebounds) and Zak Irvin (15 pts, 5/8 from 3pt). It was the first of eight straight Big Ten wins for Michigan.
Since Then: At the time Michigan and Minnesota were both fringe Big Ten title contenders more concerned about securing a tournament birth. Since then, Michigan has separated itself from the rest of the pack while Minnesota has had some ups and downs. Minnesota has wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, but also lost three in a row to Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue.
This up and down resume has Minnesota firmly on the bubble with two games left. The Gophers will close the season at home against Penn State, but this trip to Michigan is the last chance in the regular season that Minnesota has to make a big impression on the selection committee.
What Will Be Different: Michigan will most likely get its important offensive contributions from players other than Zak Irvin and Jon Horford. Nothing against those two, but this Michigan team has grown quite a bit offensively since the last meeting.
For one, Caris LeVert is playing at a much greater level of efficiency than he was the first time these teams met. In that game he had four points and four turnovers. Of course, since that game he has scored over 15 points three times and scored over 20 four more. He also hasn't committed more than two turnovers in the last seven games while being held to fewer than two assists just twice in that span.
Michigan will also have the services of Glenn Robinson III for the entire game (fingers crossed) after the wing missed almost the entire second half with a leg injury the first time these two teams met. Robinson hasn't been great this season, but his play has been trending upward the last couple games, and he has the kind of athleticism that could help on the boards.
What Should Be The Same: Michigan's biggest issue in the first game was rebounding, where the Wolverines were vastly outclassed on both ends of the floor.
Not only was Michigan without Glenn Robinson III for half the game, but Jordan Morgan played less than 10 minutes and had very little impact on the game. While having both of these two back should help Michigan push the rebounding numbers more in its favor, Michigan hasn't been great on the offensive glass all season, and Minnesota brings enough offensive rebounding ability (33.7 OR% for Minn compared to 28.9 OR% allowed for Michigan) to give Michigan trouble on the defensive side of the floor.
However, Michigan should also be able to deal with Minnesota's defense well enough to avoid turnovers. Despite playing a more press-oriented style, Minnesota has been average in forcing turnovers (just an 18.3 TO% forced by the defense this season) while Michigan has been its stingy self, currently ranking 12th nationally in TO% at 14.7.
Keys For Michigan:
- Perimeter defense. Watching the Purdue game it was clear that Michigan's defense had a number of issues stopping Purdue's Johnson duo from getting into the lane and getting shots off. Minnesota also has a backcourt duo capable of giving Michigan a hard time. The two Hollins, Austin and Andre (no relation), as well as Deandre Mathieu could give MIchigan fits if its defense breaks down like it has in games past.
- Rebound. Michigan needs to get more help on the glass. Robinson and Morgan having larger roles in this game should help, but Michigan can't afford to get beat as badly as it did last time on the glass.
- Maybe try not falling into a 10 point hole almost immediately and see how that works, okay? Obvious.
Outlook: This Michigan team is hard to figure out. In the last five games MIchigan is 3-2 with wins over Ohio State and Michigan State, despite...
From our Minnesota preview: Michigan has been outscored 101-46 in the first 10 minutes of the last five games. http://t.co/J58G5suZt8— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) February 28, 2014
That is a remarkable stat, and it goes to reinforce just how good Michigan's offense is when everything is clicking. The Wolverines can pile up points in a hurry and close double digit gaps in a matter of minutes. That those gaps exist at all is troubling, and Michigan almost flipped the switch too late last game against Purdue.
This is certainly a game that Michigan can lose if it isn't sharp, but the fact that it is at home should be enough of an advantage to keep this one firmly in Michigan's reach.