Entering Thursday’s matchup with the Minnesota Golden Gophers at 5-3, the Michigan Wolverines need a win to start the Big Ten season off on the right foot. It can even be said the Wolverines need to find their footing, period. Securing a Big Ten road victory to get the conference slate started could put Michigan on the path to postseason success.
Having lost three straight by an average of almost 13 points, the Gophers are beatable, but will Michigan utilize its talent advantages to take home the win?
Let’s take a look at how these two squads compare.
From a team-wide perspective, Michigan should be the better team here. The Wolverines score 75.1 points per game, compared to 63.1 for the Gophers. The Maize and Blue make roughly 45% of their shots from the floor, while the Gophers shoot 42.5%. Defensively, the teams are relatively even on paper, with Michigan surrendering 70.4 points per game to Minnesota’s 66.4.
However, Jaelin Llewellyn’s status is up in the air after being hurt in the Kentucky game in London on Sunday. That could affect the way Juwan Howard’s squad rolls offensively but, for now, we will give the nod to the Wolverines.
It’s no secret Hunter Dickinson is the heartbeat of this team but without a bona fide starting center, the Golden Gophers will likely defend the Wolverines big by committee.
6-foot-11 forward Dawson Garcia will probably get paired up with Dickinson the most. Averaging 29 minutes and 16 points in home games, Garcia could be the key to sending Michigan home disappointed. Standing 6-foot-11, Treyton Thompson, the only Gopher listed as a center on their roster, will also be involved in slowing Dickinson down. But that will be to a much lesser extent due to his lack of offensive production, averaging 15 minutes and 3.6 points per game at home.
In last December’s tilt, Gopher forward Jamison Battle was nearly unstoppable against Michigan, scoring 27 points in an impressive 75-65 win at Crisler Center. Although he has missed half of Minnesota’s games due to surgery, he has quickly established himself as the linchpin of the Gopher offense. His team-leading 13.8 points per game average will make him a tough draw for the multiple Wolverines who will be asked to defend him.
Advantage: Wild Card/Toss-up
Shooting a stellar 56.5% from behind the arc, Minnesota boasts a formidable sharpshooting guard in Ta’lon Cooper. But he isn’t afraid to share the rock, averaging a phenomenal 7.1 assist per game as well. These are telltale signs of a point guard who could shift the game’s momentum in a blink of an eye, and Jaelin Llewellyn — or Dug McDaniel, if he isn’t able to suit up — will need to be on their toes to prevent that from happening.
Winning these battles (pun intended) will determine whether Michigan returns home with a tough Big Ten road victory.