Some Key Questions Heading into Minnesota vs. MichiganPosted by Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso on March 1st, 2014
Minnesota traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with Michigan highlights the slate of the games this weekend in the Big Ten. There is a great deal on the line for both teams, as the Gophers look to pick up what would be an enormous resume boost that would come from beating the league’s first place team in their building. Michigan would inch that much closer toward picking up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown with a victory. RTC’s Big Ten correspondents Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso look at some of what to watch for if you’re tuning in (BTN 6:oo EST).
Brendan Brody: Michigan showed how dangerous they can be when they hit threes and play at a quicker tempo in their last win over Iowa. Does Michigan try and run with them, or do they try and play at a slower pace?
Alex Moscoso: I’ve coached exactly zero minutes of organized basketball, but it would seem to me that deviating from what you do best is a recipe for disaster. And what Michigan does best is offense. Granted, Minnesota has also shown it’s at its best when they are getting up and down the court-relying on the sharpshooting of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu’s ability to get to the rim. However, if I was John Beilein, I would be ecstatic if Minnesota wanted to get in a track meet with his squad on Saturday. Michigan scores more efficiently (1.21 to 1.14 points per possession), shoots the ball better (55.2% to 51.4% eFG), and virtually runs the same pace as the Gophers (63 to 64.7 adjusted tempo). The question may be, are the Gophers going to be able to run with Michigan. I mentioned Hollins earlier, and he clearly hasn’t been the same since hurting his ankle against Wisconsin. How can Minnesota still win this game if Hollins isn’t effective offensively?
BB: It’s been said on various telecasts since he has come back that Hollins is only playing at about 85-90% health-wise. He still has been knocking down shots, but you can just tell by watching that he isn’t the same player in terms of aggressiveness and just his movements on the court. So Minnesota has had to look other places for a while now, knowing that Hollins isn’t going to be the type of player- while hobbled- to get them 25-30 points any time soon. This means that more of the offensive responsibilities fall on the shoulders of Austin Hollins and Mathieu. Both are effective finishers around the rim, and they really thrive when the Gophers run. They’ve also gotten contributions from Joey King, Malik Smith, and Charles Buggs recently. If one of those three can get 12-15 points, Hollins can score somewhere around the 12.9 PPG he’s averaged since he’s come back, and they will still have enough offense. Switching it up from talking about guards to the frontcourt, Jordan Morgan played maybe his best game of the year against Purdue when he scored 13 points to go along with 9 rebounds. Between Morgan and Jon Horford, who will be more effective playing extended minutes in this one?
AM: Despite recent struggles, Elliott Eliason is still arguably Minnesota’s most serviceable big man. While Morgan played well against Purdue-who has the best defensive center in the league in A.J. Hammons- that performance is more of an outlier compared to his whole season. Morgan is averaging 5.2 PPG and 4.3 RPG and has only reached double-digit points in three other conference games. With Eliason most likely being assigned to Morgan (he is more offensively effective than Horford) it will make it much more difficult to duplicate his above average performance from Wednesday. Instead, Horford should have more of an impact using his defensive skills to shut down Eliason. If Horford can get on the glass and keep he and Maurice Walker out of position enough to steal a few rebounds, that will give the Wolverines more opportunities to activate their break and get easy buckets in transition. We mentioned how Minnesota also likes to run, but their press may not be effective due to the fact that Michigan doesn’t really turn the ball over very much. How can they force the Wolverines into double-digit turnovers?
BB: The only team to have success in this area over their last five games was Iowa, who forced 12 in their 85-67 win three weeks ago. Like the Hawkeyes, they will first need to score early and often so they can set up their pressure. Minnesota presses even more than Iowa does, so Mathieu will need to be all over Derrick Walton Jr if he is their primary ball-handler. Michigan will be playing in front of their home crowd and might be feeling added pressure as they get closer to clinching first place in the league. The Gophers best bet is to get some easy looks early on offense, set up the press accordingly, and get to them early. If Michigan gets up early and hit some shots on their end, the likelihood of them panicking into turnovers with a lead at home is not very high.