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Minnesota vs. Michigan Basketball Preview: A chance for...revenge?

The second part of the Big Ten mini slate concludes on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

It was only one game, and against the worst team in the conference, but the Michigan Wolverines gave fans a reminder of who they can be on Tuesday after thoroughly dismantling Nebraska in Lincoln. While the story of the game was the 15 made three-pointers, the defense was solid as well against the inferior Cornhuskers.

Michigan returns home to play its second of two early Big Ten games, hosting Minnesota with a good chance to open the conference slate 2-0. The Gophers are 7-1, having just suffered their first loss of the year against Michigan State, but sit just 92nd per Kenpom and have not had the toughest road here.

The 2020-21 Big Ten Champion Wolverines only dropped three conference games, with one standing out in particular. After crushing Minnesota 82-57 in Ann Arbor, Michigan experienced its first loss of the season just six days later in Minneapolis, losing by 18 to a team that would end up 13th in the conference. The schools’ lone meeting this season will be an opportunity to wipe that anomaly away.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-1, 0-1) vs. Michigan Wolverines (6-3, 1-0)

Date & Time: Saturday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: FS1
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Big Ten Standings: MICH t-2nd, MINN t-10th
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: MICH -14, O/U 134.5

Nebraska is not a good team and struggles both shooting and defending the three, but it was great to see the Wolverines’ talent on display this week. Nearly everyone chipped in, but the story was the performance of Brandon Johns and Terrance Williams, putting up 20 and 22 points, respectively, and shooting a combined 5-for-6 from deep. The Gophers are top 20 in three-point defense, so both players will need to continue attacking the rim as well.

The glaring stat for Minnesota is an offensive rebounding rate that is nearly dead last nationally. While this offense does not turn the ball over at all (fourth in turnover rate), it does not shoot lights-out either, so Michigan should feel safe just defending well, making its switches, and grabbing the rebound to prevent additional opportunities. This is a reasonable matchup for DeVante Jones, Eli Brooks, and Hunter Dickinson, especially for a conference game.

The Spartans did a good job making the Gophers uncomfortable and limiting good ball movement. Minnesota notoriously overhauled nearly its whole roster during the offseason, and it is not surprising that the new lineup is still trying to find its chemistry. Forcing the visitors into contested looks is doable and expected after how Michigan has defended the past two games.

Matchup Highlights

As great as it was to see Johns and Williams play well against Nebraska, a 4-for-7 night from deep for Caleb Houstan shows a player who is starting to find his groove. The five star has now scored 13.8 PPG over his last four on 44 percent shooting from the floor and 57 (!!) percent shooting from behind the arc. The freshman may experience more ups and downs this year, but he is clearly as good as advertised.

As mentioned, Minnesota’s four top scorers and four top minute-getters are all transfers. While this strategy had moderate success in Big Ten football this year, it remains to be seen how this works in basketball. The focal point so far is George Washington transfer Jamison Battle, a forward averaging 17.8 PPG as well as 6.4 rebounds; Battle offers a decent 56.4 percent eFG rate.