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Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinal Preview: Minnesota

Aww, sorry Reggie Hearn.
Aww, sorry Reggie Hearn.

Wait... what? Michigan's not playing Northwestern? I guess we should have foreseen an upset in the game yesterday between Minnesota and the Wildcats; I think everyone assumed that Northwestern had so much to play for and simultaneously forgot that having so much to play for basically guaranteed an epic choke. It happened, Northwestern blew their slim chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament, and Michigan will play the Minnesota Golden Gophers -- not Northwestern -- tomorrow at 6:30 on the Big Ten Network. I'm guessing this was their reaction after the game yesterday:

Just picture Tubby Smith as the gopher from Caddyshack.

And with that, I promise that I won't make any more Caddyshack references.

Okay, so Minnesota's our opponent. Michigan hasn't played the Gophers since New Year's Day earlier this season as Minnesota was one of Michigan's four single-plays in the Big Ten season this year. The Wolverines won that game 61-56 with an extremely efficient 27 points from Trey Burke. Tim Hardaway Jr. struggled and only made two shots on 14 field goal attempts, Jordan Morgan turned in a good day on the boards with 12 rebounds, and Stu Douglass and Zack Novak each scored nine points. Five Gophers scored six points, and nobody scored more than eleven (Rodney Williams and Julian Welch each put up eleven). Michigan led for most of the contest but the game was close throughout and Minnesota actually had the ball down one with a minute left and turned it over. A long Hardaway jumper sealed it and Michigan came away with a five point win. Here's a short highlight video from the game.

Earlier this year, I wrote this about Minnesota's non-conference performance (they went 12-1):

The narrative regarding Minnesota's basketball season to this point is pretty much the same everywhere you look: "The Gophers lost Trevor Mbakwe to an ACL tear and are basically out of contention for a NCAA Tournament bid, but they're still winning somehow." Indeed, losing Mbakwe was critical and replacing his impact on the floor is impossible. I'd be shocked if Minnesota could still contend after losing Mbakwe, but they've still done fairly well against a rather weak non-conference schedule (Virginia Tech has really been their only quality opponent so far). The Gophers will struggle against much tougher teams as Big Ten play starts.

Basically, those statements have held true -- losing Mbakwe was devastating and Minnesota has struggled in Big Ten play (oh, and that win over Virginia Tech isn't impressive anymore). Since then, the Gophers have gone 6-12 in the Big Ten and finished tenth in the standings. They were on the bubble for a while, but lost six of their last seven regular season games.

The Gophers' statistical profile is, as you'd probably expect, pretty underwhelming:

  • Record: 19-13 (6-12)
  • Big Ten Offensive Efficiency: 100.2
  • Big Ten Defensive Efficiency: 104.3
  • Big Ten Rank (Offense): eFG % (8), TO % (12), OR % (3), FT Rate (6)
  • Big Ten Rank (Defense): eFG % (4), TO % (8), OR % (10), FT Rate (11)
Minnesota is a team that's heavily reliant on its frontcourt. They crash the glass on offense, but can't shoot or hold onto the ball -- which is good for Michigan, since they're the best in the Big Ten at forcing turnovers. On defense, they hold opponents to a respectable mark shooting, but don't do anything else well.

Personnel-wise, Minnesota isn't very intimidating. Rodney Williams is incredibly athletic and fills up the highlight reel with his dunks, but he's only an average wing player. Ralph Sampson III -- yes, the son of the real Ralph Samson -- is surprisingly a very tall center with a decent mid-range game, but he missed the Northwestern game and is unlikely to play today. Andre Hollins had a monster game against Northwestern (25 points, 5 rebounds) and still only averages 6.7 points per game. Julian Welch and Austin Hollins are pretty decent guards and Elliott Eliason is Minnesota's rebounding big man.

Michigan stacks up well with Minnesota, especially with Sampson out. The backcourt for the Gophers is not able to reproduce their excellent performance against Northwestern -- Dre Hollins isn't going to put up 25 again. Trey Burke should slice through their guards and put up another very good game against the Gophers. Michigan, or to be more specific, Hardaway, struggled from the field against Minnesota in a game where they should have coasted. Assuming that an anomaly doesn't happen again, Michigan should improve its shooting against Minnesota's weak backcourt. Our guards should also force a ton of turnovers against them. In the frontcourt, it's going to be tough for Minnesota if Eliason is their only post player. I'm not sure how Michigan can contain the athleticism of Williams, but he's not a high volume scorer. If Michigan's offense shows up this time, it should be a victory for Michigan. Of course, Minnesota wasn't supposed to beat Northestern either, so anything's possible.

Prediction: Michigan 66, Minnesota 55