Another winnable game, another rough extended stretch, another lost chance to start accumulating some Quad 1 wins. The story remains the same for the Michigan Wolverines, who are not a bad basketball team or incapable of finding success in this conference, yet continue to fall short when it matters.
Sunday will not provide the opportunity to boost the mediocre resume, but should offer a chance to at least regroup. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are easily the worst Big Ten team — by about 100 spots on Kenpom — and someone the Wolverines beat by 15 on the road. The Gophers have just one conference win, which hilariously came in Columbus, but this is a bad squad.
No doubt about it, this is the most winnable game left on Michigan’s schedule. Simple games have caused plenty of issues this year, however, so who really knows what can be expected. The young backcourt needs the reps, and maybe this contest can build some momentum with Purdue coming to town on Thursday.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-10, 1-6) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-7, 4-2)
Date & Time: Sunday, Jan. 21, 1 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Big Ten Standings: MINN 14th, UM t-4th
No excuses here
As mentioned above, it has been a bit of a mixed journey for Dug McDaniel since being thrown into the starting lineup. His performance is not out of the range of expectations for a freshman point guard, but unfortunately Michigan can only go so far with his current level of play. Kobe Bufkin has taken on a bigger role to help him out, but this has not worked perfectly either.
The young guard tandem has struggled with turnovers at times, but even just getting the offense going is the bigger point of focus right now. Maryland’s zone clearly caused issues, and it will be interesting if Minnesota looks to do the same. On paper this defense is pretty poor, so both McDaniel and Bufkin could be in a for a nice afternoon.
Clearly Hunter Dickinson is not having a great year, but he obviously has the ability to turn it on. In big matchups he has been surprisingly poor, but even against bottom competition he has not lived up to his billing. Dickinson did score 19 in Minneapolis, though, and he needs to find a way to get reenergized.
No excuses here either
Most of the Gophers’ offensive metrics fall in the bottom half of the conference, an as a result, their overall efficiency ranks second-to-last. They did manage to score a not-terrible 1.02 PPP in the first matchup, though, and Michigan will need to show some improvement on this end of the floor.
The most obvious x-factor is Ta’Lon Cooper, who is shooting over 55 percent from three and went 2-for-3 behind the arc against the Wolverines in December. This is a chance for Bukfin to step up on both ends of the court, and not letting Cooper get open looks is imperative, especially off of ball screens.
The other thing to watch is what happens if Minnesota is able to go on a run. Opponents have far too often posted lopsided scoring runs against the Wolverines this year, and while part of that lies with the offense as well, the defense needs to better be able to force some stops. Rebounding remains a component of this, but there is really no excuse to let an offense this poor find any stretch of ease.