Friday, January 25, 2008
See what I did there? I took Ohio State's nickname, and changed only one letter, and made it derogatory. That's good writing folks, take notes.
So I've had some time to relax and reflect after the Week of Doom, in which I was not very optimistic about the Gophers' chances this season, and I feel a lot better. Michigan State and Indiana are clearly the two best teams in the conference, and I think both legitimate top 10 teams in the country. And the Gophers hung with both of them until the end, and probably should have won the Indiana game. If you're used the doom and gloom I'm usually spewing forth, get ready for a change. This time we're going with a ray of sunshine and lollipops because guess what? The Gophers can win this game. And will.
Ohio State has been pretty much accepted as the fourth best team in the Big Ten. My question is why? They're currently 4-2, with wins @ Illinois, vs. Illinois, vs. Iowa, and vs. Northwestern. That is very much not impressive. They've played a good schedule, but have lost every meaningful game other than winning against Syracuse, including losses to Texas A&M by 23 and Butler by 19.
The toughest thing about winning in the Big Ten is doing it on the road, and normally the Gophers going into Columbus, even against a mediocre Buckeye squad, would be an automatic loss, but not this year. The Gophers showed they can win tough games on the road this year, with wins at Penn State and Iowa State. Neither team is as good as Ohio State, but they gave Michigan State all they could handle at the Breslin Center, a much tougher place to play and a much better team.
The scariest thing about Ohio State is guard Jamar Butler. He can absolutely go off on you at any point, but he has been very inconsistent. Since conference play began (with the game @ Tennessee mixed in) he has scored 32, 0, 8, 26, 21, 8, and 7 points. Good news for the Gophers, is that his high games have all been on the road. I think the Nolen/McKenzie/Westbrook combo can keep him under control.
The other big time scorer for OSU is freshman center Kosta Koufos. He's big, at 7 feet tall, but he plays soft (think Rick Rickert). The big man has taken almost as many threes (32) as free throws (48). I can't decide if this bodes well for Spencer or not. On the one hand, he won't have to worry about fouling out, but on the other, I'm not sure if he can handle a big guy out on the perimeter. I can't remember him ever having to guard one. The closest thing I can think of is Brian Butch from Wisconsin, and I don't remember him ever lighting Spencer up. Should be interesting.
A guy who really worries me is David Lighty, a 6-5 sophomore who is averaging 9.7 points per game after doubling his minutes from last season. He's an inside/outside/slasher guy, who is inconsistent but seems to be getting better and better. He's not as good as Raymar Morgan from MSU, but he's a similar player and I'd hate to see him go off here like Morgan did that first game the Gophers played the Spartans.
The key offensive player for Minnesota will be Dan Coleman. Coleman is a bit of a matchup problem for Ohio State, and hopefully they can take advantage of it. If the Buckeyes put Lighty on him, Coleman has a height advantage, and if the put Othello Hunter on him (likely) Coleman should be able to pull him away from the basket and use his perimeter shooting and ball handling/driving abilities to score. Look for Coleman to have a big game (please).
But the biggest reason the Gophers will pull this one off, comes from Minnesota's defense vs. Ohio State's guards. Ohio State turns the ball over on 20.9% of their possessions, which ranks 125th in the country. Minnesota's defense turns their opponent over on 27.8% of their possessions, first in the country (thank you Tubby). This is not good news for the Buckeyes - who, by the way, don't have a point guard. OSU has played three other teams who rank in the top 20 in defensive turnover percentage: Tennessee (loss), Purdue (loss), and Northwestern (turned it over 20 times but NW shot 31%). Added bonus that doesn't seem like a bonus at first: Ohio State is #1 in the country at not sending opponents to the free throw line. If that doesn't play right into the Gophers hands, I don't know what does.
What does all this mean? It means take the Gophers and the under, because Minnesota is about to let the Big Ten know that they are a contender (kind of) this year.
Minnesota 62, Ohio State 57.