All eyes will be on Minneapolis for this nationally televised match up between top 10 conference foes. Game time is 6pm CT and ESPN has the broadcast. (Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)
Freshman Nik Staukas has made more than half of his 3-point attempts. (Photo: Greg Shamus / Getty Images)
Game Preview: #5/#5 Michigan Wolverines (16-1, 3-1) at #9/#12 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-2, 3-1)
This nationally televised match up (ESPN, 6PM CT) marks the first game between top 10 men's teams that Williams Arena has hosted in more than 35 years.
Both teams remain highly respected by pollsters and computer rankings alike despite losing this past weekend. In their last game, respectively, Minnesota and Michigan fell behind early before mounting impressive second half comebacks that weren’t quite enough. Each squad hopes to come out focused and ready for a strong start Thursday evening.
Minnesota traveled to Indiana and went into the break trailing 52-29. Still down 11 with less than 2 minutes to play, the Gophers narrowed the margin to just 3 points but came up short, losing 88-81.
An unbeaten Michigan team visited Ohio State and struggled early, trailing by as many as 21 points. Down 34 to 22 as the second half began, the Wolverines scared the crowd at Value City Arena when they tied it on a Glenn Robinson 3-point shot with 5:59 to play. Like the Gophers, however, Michigan was never able to take a second half lead and had just too little too late.
With a small, quiet crowd, Williams Arena can seem like a tame old building. When the Gophers are playing well and the Barn is packed, however, it becomes a magical arena filled with energy and mystique that puts it up with the best that college basketball has to offer.
Thursday night, Williams Arena will be magical and fans attending as well as those watching on television will be treated to a great show.
Not everyone can go home happy, though, and so we take a look at factors that may put one team over the top. This looks like another toss up game, but being at home gives Minnesota a small edge. If the Gophers take smart shots and limit turnovers, they'll put themselves into good position for a victory.
There won’t be any shame in losing this game, but the winner will have taken another important step toward their Big Ten championship hopes.
The 3-point shot is a relatively large part of Michigan’s attack this season, but not nearly as significant compared to Coach Beilein’s teams of the past decade. So far during the 2012-13 season, Michigan’s impressive effective field goal percentage of 57.5% (against D-I teams) has been supported by both 3FG% (39.2%) and 2FG% (56.7%).
As discussed in more detail in this Late Night Hoops article, it will be difficult for the Wolverines to maintain such a high eFG% for the remainder of the season.
Michigan’s offense relies heavily on guards and wings that have taken 54% (accordingly to Hoop-Math.com) of their 2FG attempts at the rim. However, defenses like Minnesota’s should be able to push that figure downward by forcing the Michigan players to shoot more 2-point jumpers, resulting in a lower 2FG%.
As discussed recently in this GopherHole.com article, Minnesota’s 2FG% is also something to keep an eye on. Over the last three games, the Gophers have shot 48.2% 2FG and need to be better.
Thursday night is a good opportunity for Minnesota as the Wolverines defensive field goal percentage is weak and they can be exploited in the paint.
No surprise here: a big advantage goes to the visiting team.
There was an unusual occurrence in both of Minnesota’s losses this year: four turnovers by Austin Hollins. The junior wing has a turnover rate of less than 17% which, for the Gophers (22% as a team), is very good. The games against Duke and Indiana are the only two in which Austin has given the ball away more than three times.
Turnovers have been a theme surrounding Minnesota basketball for the past few years. Although the Wolverines generally don’t turn their opponents over a lot, they’ll have a good opportunity to rack up decent takeaway figures at Williams Arena (which also should help their eFG%).
Michigan has done exceptionally well when it comes to taking care of the ball this season (15% turnover rate). It all starts with superstar point guard Trey Burke (13%), but every one of their guards and wings have been strong.
Known for their great offensive rebounding, the Gophers struggle on the defensive glass. Minnesota will look to earn an edge in the area of rebounding after losing the board battle against both Indiana and Illinois.
The numbers are quite extreme, but the summary is this: Michigan doesn’t do well rebounding their own misses, but they excel at keeping their opponent from getting second chances. Minnesota has been the nation’s best on the offensive boards, but do not keep their opponents off the glass at the other end of the floor.
The Gophers will look for a big offensive rebounding game from Trevor Mbakwe with help from Rodney Williams and/or their frontline reserves.
On the defensive boards, Minnesota needs to focus on Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson. Most likely Morgan and McGary won’t see much time on the floor together.
Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas are excellent players, but they are allergic to offensive rebounds.
In the Indiana preview I hesitantly (because free throws, particularly free throw percentages, are talked about too much in college basketball) said “…free throws are way down on the list of important factors in a basketball game, but in Saturday’s game the differential in attempts is something to closely monitor.”
Don’t expect another 25 free throw attempt differential Thursday like there was against Indiana (40 attempts for the Hoosiers, 15 for the Gophers), but again free throw trips will be something to keep an eye on because something has got to give.
With their perimeter-oriented play, the Wolverines don’t spend much time at the free throw line and Minnesota should be able to get to the line more often than Michigan. A number of Gophers earn frequent trips to the line, led by Mbakwe and Williams inside and Andre Hollins at the point guard position.
However, free throw opportunities against Michigan won’t be easy to come by. The Wolverines’ defense has the lowest free throw rate allowed in college basketball (approximately 19%) and in only two games this year have they allowed a free throw rate higher than 29%. Meanwhile, the Gophers’ offense has never posted a free throw rate as low as Michigan’s defensive average and Minnesota has been below 33% just once this entire season (23% at Indiana).
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke (18.0p, 3.1r, 7.1a, 3.6:1 a:to, 59.0% eFG, 39.2% 3FG) has been tremendous. He’s putting together a magical season and should be a first round NBA draft pick this summer. Burke’s 27% possession usage seems like a sweet spot for him and he’s been able to torch defenses by shooting or passing the ball. Minnesota would like to get him shooting 2-point jumpers (although he’s so done with great accuracy this year) and trying to do too much for his team. An early lead would help the Gopher defense, but defending Burke is probably one of those, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” situations.
Not surprisingly, Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.1p, 5.4r) has seen his 3FG% bounce back up this year (36.7% compared to 28.3% last year and 36.7% as a freshman). In addition to his potent scoring, Hardaway has been very strong on the defensive glass (over 17% DR%) and much better than his first two seasons (under 12%).
Jordan Morgan (6.6p, 5.5r) is just solid. He’s a big body that defends and rebounds. He’ll put the ball in the bucket when the opportunity presents itself, but the offense does not go through him in the post. The 6’8’ junior has learned to stay out of the foul trouble that affected his minutes over the past two seasons, but with the arrival of Mitch McGary his minutes are slightly down. Nonetheless, his efficiency and overall play is better than it’s ever been.
Freshman shooter Nik Stauskas (12.7p, 3.2r, 50.5% 3FG) is a 6’6” product of Canada that has been lights out from deep since day one. Stauskas has knocked down more than half his 91 3-point attempts this year, but the question is how well he can keep it up in conference play. After shooting 56.5% 3FG in calendar 2012, he has shot just 31.8% 3FG in four Big Ten games.
Glenn Robinson III (12.3p, 5.8r) is another highly efficient freshman for Coach Beilein. Big Dog’s son has been solid with his 2-point jumpshot and will occasionally dial it up from distance (13/33 3FG for 39.4%), but he’s best attacking the rim. Burke-to-Robinson has been a nice connection in Michigan’s attack.
With Jordan Morgan’s strong play, Mitch McGary (5.4p, 5.9r) has been able to ease into his college career. Michigan needed another inside presence and McGary has delivered. His rebounding numbers are outrageously high and he’s going to be a force in the future. Michigan’s staff should be concerned about McGary picking up undesirable fouls against the Gophers, but on the plus side he could step on the court and pick up a few game-changing offensive rebounds.
Other Players to Watch:
• Freshmen Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert didn’t arrive in Ann Arbor with the notoriety of the big three, but they’ve both been very good in limited minutes. LeVert had committed to Ohio before John Groce left for Illinois and says he’s grown an inch and a half and put on 20 pounds already this year. He’s still very thin, but LeVert has a great combination of length and scoring skill.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball