Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Minnesota at Michigan First Look

It would be easy to think, now that the grueling portion of Minnesota's schedule is in the rear-view mirror, that Tubby Smith's Gophers will get back to beating up on inferior competition.

Don't bet your house on it.

Beginning Thursday night in Ann Arbor, the Gophers can begin to claw themselves out of the deep hole that they dug during a three-game stretch that, had balls bounced differently, or free throws fallen instead of clanked. But no Big Ten win, especially a road win, is going to be handed over to the Golden Gophers. Should the Gophers look past a Wolverines team that has lost to the likes of Western Kentucky, Harvard and Central Michigan, the Gophers' hopes of finishing at, near or above .500 in conference play will not be realized.

Who Are The Wolverines?:

When John Beilein took over for Tommy Amaker last off season, he surely knew it could take time to rebuild the once-proud Michigan basketball program. With a young team (that includes just two seniors who aren't difference makers) Beilein has suffered through a 5-15 start to the season.

Not surprisingly, the Wolverines are led by two underclassmen--freshman guard Manny Harris and sophomore forward DeShawn Sims. Harris has been your classic shoot-first freshman guard. He's racked up the assists and turnovers (1/1.1), but also leads the team in scoring with 16.2 per contest. Sims, meanwhile, has matured in his second year. His minutes have jumped along with his production. He leads the Wolverines in rebounding and in is a legitimate threat from beyond the arc.

While Harris and Sims are a decent one-two punch, production for the Wolverines drops off substantially after that. Ekpe Udoh is a still-intriguing 6-10 sophomore center who is still very raw, but can alter countless shots with his length in the paint. Kevin Grady is, perhaps, Michigan's point guard of the future, but Grady has seen his playing time dwindle as conference play drags on.

Those four players--Udoh, Grady, Harris and Sims--should give you a sense of what the Wolverines are: A team currently without an identity.

Five Keys For The Gophers:

1.) Create turnovers. If experienced teams like Michigan State will turn the ball over against the pressure defense, the Wolverines should be perfect victims.
2.) Attack the basket.
3.) Get out to an early lead. No sense giving a young team any confidence at home.
4.) Score in transition. The Gophers need easy baskets to win.
5.) Forget about the three game slide.

Reason For Optimism: All season, the Gophers have been able to beat the teams they should beat. This game should be no different. Michigan might be the worst team in the conference other than Northwestern.

Reason For Pessimism: The Gophers haven't put together a full 40 minutes all season. Add to that the fatigue that comes along with a three game slide and a likely yawn-inspiring road environment, and the Gophers could come out flat.

Take Five: The next five games for the Gophers are all must wins if the Gophers want to still cling to NCAA hopes. After Thursday night, the Gophers host Bucky the Badger, travel to Northwestern before hosting Iowa and Illinois. Sweeping all five might allow us to dream about a Big Ten Tournament run and a long shot at the NCAAs.

Key Player: Al Nolen. The Gophers have been at their best this season when he has been a competent floor leader. We can withstand occasional mishaps, but not the lengthy stretches of poor play he put together at Ohio State.

Prediction: I'm so very tempted to pick the Wolverines, but they are so bad, I mean really, really not good at all, that I just must pick the Gophers. The Wolverines have beaten Radford, Brown, Eastern Washington, Oakland and Northwestern. The Gophers won't be added to that list, but it will be closer than you expect. Minnesota 74, Michigan 65.

PJS Note: I'll be in meetings all day tomorrow so the typical Game Day Prep will not make an appearance before the Michigan game.


alex said...

The Barnyard is taking its annual roadtrip for this game, so I'll be there. Hopefully we don't play down to our competition, because Michigan is really a terrible team, and we should blow them out without a doubt.

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