Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The not so mighty Gophers head to Ann Arbor to take on the bottom of the barrel Wolverines on Thursday evening, and I'm terrified. If the Gophers lose this game, and there's no reason they should except that they're the Gophers, it's time to pack it in for the season.
I don't even know why I'm terrified. Michigan is horrible, with their lone conference win coming against Northwestern. They even lost by 8 at home to Iowa, so really, there's no reason to be nervous. Except that they are an athletic team, and the Gophers have struggled with that.
The three scariest players for Michigan are DeShawn Sims, Manny Harris, and Ekpe Udoh. Sims is 6-8, very athletic, and can score inside or out. He's like Dan Coleman with more athleticism and less scared of contact. I am guessing these two will guard each other, and may be one of the biggest keys to the game tomorrow night.
Harris is the superstar freshman who has burst onto the scene to lead Michigan in scoring, assists, and steals (and turnovers), and has put up 20+ points in three big ten games already. He's tough to stop, particularly for a team like Minnesota who doesn't have a small forward capable of playing defense, unless you count Damian Johnson. Expect to see a healthy dose of DJ on Harris tomorrow, as there's no way Blake or Shamala can handle him, and he's too tall (6-5) for any of the three guards.
The final guy who scares me is Udoh, and although he doesn't score much, only 6.0 per game, he's a tall, long, athletic center who could get Tollackson/Williams in foul trouble if they look to get him the ball. The team overall is deep as well, as they play 11 guys 10 or more minutes per game. Look out for Kelvin Grady or Anthony Wright getting hot from three and ruining this trip.
Of course, all that being said, the Wolverines are 1-7 for a reason. They aren't very good. At all. They rank 317th in the country in defensive efficiency, as well as 313th in preventing offensive rebounds, 329th against the three, and 209th against 2-point shots. Simply put, Minnesota should have plenty of open looks, and even if they miss, they should have opportunities for offensive rebounds and second or third chances. Basically, they're trying to run the system Beilein ran at West Virginia, but they don't have the players. They love to shoot the three (38.1% of attempts are three pointers) but can't make it (32.1% is 277th in the country). They don't rebound (10th in Big Ten), but don't score enough to make up for it (9th in Big Ten).
Minnesota is a good enough offensive team to be able to take advantage of Michigan's poor defense, and a good enough defensive team that they should be able to force Michigan into plenty of turnovers and bad shots, and should win this one easily. Westbrook, McKenzie, Nolen, and Hoffarber should have open shots on the perimeter all day, Coleman should be able to get to the rim whenever he wants, and Tollackson should be able to get great position deep on Udoh.
So why am I terrified?
Ken Pomeroy predicts a 73-67 Gopher victory, and he's smart. I'll say Minnesota 65, Michigan 62, and a lot of frustration and terrifying moments before the end.
Purdue -11 vs. Iowa (L)
Virginia +6.5 @ Maryland (L)
Dayton -8 vs. St Louis (W)
Cincy +13.5 @ West Virginia (W)
St Joe's -6.5 @ George Washington (L)
UNLV -3 @ TCU (W)
Drake -4 vs. Creighton (W)
Missouri -5 vs. Nebraska (L)
Memphis -10 @ Houston (W)
Arkansas -2.5 vs. Mississippi State (W)
Michigan St -9.5 vs. Illinois
Texas +3.5 @ Texas A&M
Kansas -7 @ Kansas State (L)