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Basketball Preview: Michigan vs. Minnesota

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The Golden Gophers have been a major disappointment in conference play this year, while Michigan looks to build its home winning streak to four games.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason polls don’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but they can factor in to how well a team ended up managing hype heading into the season.

In the case of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s upcoming opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, it hasn’t gone well.

Minnesota was ranked No. 15 Week 1, and things were off to a great start. Head coach Richard Pitino and his squad lost just one game in the early non-conference season — a five-point loss to Miami — and were seemingly one of the favorites to win the Big Ten.

But after that loss to Miami everything seemed to go downhill. They defeated Rutgers to begin conference play, but then suffered a 10-point loss to Nebraska and a 16-point loss to Arkansas just four days later.

Now on Feb. 2, the Golden Gophers sit at 14-10 on the season and 3-8 in the Big Ten. They have lost four straight (and seven of their last eight) and head into a big game at Michigan that could decide the trajectory of how they finish the season, because their final stretch isn’t kind — a rematch with Nebraska, at Indiana, vs. Michigan State, at Wisconsin, vs. Iowa (who just defeated them) and then, to top it all off, at Purdue.

Yikes.

So how will Michigan be challenged in this game? Well, despite Minnesota’s recent struggles, it still has the fourth best scoring offense in the Big Ten (78 points per game) and also rebounds the ball very well, something Michigan hasn’t done particularly well this season.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Gophers also have, on average, the second highest blocked shots rate in the conference (6.1 per game), only behind Michigan State at eight per game, and we all know how Michigan fared in the paint against MSU.

If Minnesota is able to break down Michigan defensively, win the rebounding battle and the battle in the paint, the Golden Gophers have a legitimate chance to pull off an upset.

But the Wolverine’s forte this season has been defense; it’s how they defeated Michigan State and it’s how they’ve won so many games this year. The Wolverines have the No. 1 scoring defense in the conference (63.1 points given up per game), while Minnesota sits at No. 13 (73.5).

I could see this being a neck-and-neck game up until the last minute or so. But I could also see this being an easy W for Michigan given Minnesota’s struggles in conference play. At the very least, we are in for an interesting game tomorrow night at Crisler.