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Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Wolverines Preview: Resolutions needed

The Wolverines better hope the calendar turning means last year’s woes are gone.

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

For the time being, might as well disregard the Michigan Wolverines’ (embarrassing) 6-7 overall record and just focus on conference play, as that is all that really matters now. With 18 games remaining, there is still plenty of time to save the season, and after countless misses in the non-conference slate, it is all Big Ten from here on out anyway.

Michigan went 1-1 during the December conference openers, blowing a chance against Indiana but collecting a nice win on the road at Iowa. 2024 starts off kindly with games against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday, then Penn State over the weekend, two of the bottom four teams in the conference per Kenpom (just ignore the fact that Indiana is in there too).

The Wolverines took both games against the Gophers last season and will face them just one time this year. Minnesota also split its early Big Ten games, beating Nebraska but losing at Ohio State. Michigan really should take this one, and while any win will do, it feels like the team desperately needs a strong performance to give any sort of future hope.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-3, 1-1) at Michigan Wolverines (6-7, 1-1)

Date & Time: Thursday, Jan. 4, 9:00 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: Peacock

Despite having 10 wins, Minnesota has played next to no one; after Nebraska, the next best win per Kenpom is Florida Gulf Coast, down at 228. Losses to Missouri and San Francisco are the other gams of note, but on the whole this is only the 83rd-best team nationally in Kenpom, with neither side of the ball looking that impressive.

The Gophers do shoot the ball well, especially in the paint, and much of that comes via big man Dawson Garcia who is averaging 17.6 points per game and 7.2 rebounds. He is often fed by point guard Elijah Hawkins, who is leading the nation with a ridiculous 7.8 assists per game, and those two make up a decent chunk of the offense. Minnesota does collect a fair number of offense rebounds, which has been one of Michigan’s many challenges this year.

Build a foundation

The biggest key for the Wolverines is opening up the new calendar year with something to believe in. The team has lost seven of its past 10 games, and while most of these were against top-100 competition, it is borderline inexcusable to see no sort of growth, regardless of exits and roster turnover.

Minnesota is not a great team, and this is a game that Michigan should control. The Dug McDaniel offense can be functional if the other starters step up, and scoring is not the challenge against a team that sits at exactly 100th in adjusted defensive efficiency. It is the other end of the floor that needs to improve most, where miscommunications and breakdowns in the paint are far too frequent. The talent seems to be there, so whether it be changes to effort, coaching, or something else, the Wolverine defense needs to find a way to show up on Thursday.