Friday, January 22, 2010

No Better Time for a Big Win

With all kinds of messy, confusing news coming out of the U, such as Nolen's ineligibility and Royce White practicing with the team, and nearly a week between games it was easy to forget the Gophers still play basketball.  But they do, and they're back at it again this weekend against Michigan State.  Yes, again.  These two teams played just eleven days ago, but it seems like an eternity.  Since that game, the Spartans have taken care of two mediocre opponents at home, while your beloved Gophers lost in truly dreadful fashion to the mighty Hoosiers.  I don't want to think about that, so let's get to our five questions:

1.  How will no Nolen affect the team?  Well I just wrote about this yesterday, so you can go ahead and read that, but basically either Devoe or Cobbs will need to take a huge step forward.  One is a freshman, the other is a shooting guard, so neither seems particularly likely.  The team does catch a bit of a break getting a chance to break those two in at home instead of on the road, but they also catch the opposite of a break because they immediately go against Michigan State and captain annoying Kalin Lucas.  The lost might be felt most in terms of turnovers, however.  The Spartans have been a turnover machine for much of the season, and the Gophers are usually excellent at turning teams over, especially at home, and I am pretty sure Nolen is directly responsible for half the TOs the Gophers force.  So yeah, that part really sucks.  The good news is no matter what happens, Gopher point guard shooting can't possibly get worse.

2.  Last time I said Ralph would be the key, how about this time?  Anybody stepping up and becoming an offensive threat would be a key, but I don't see any reason to believe Ralph is more likely than any other handful of Gophers.  He did show some increased aggressiveness against Indiana and got to the free throw line 15 times (making 11) but who on that team is going to stop him?  Red flags are everywhere when he only grabs five rebounds in 37 minutes against that team, not to mention how he was outmuscled, outhustled, and outworked last time they played the Spartans not only by big bruisers like Draymond Green, but by guys like Durrell Summers, too.  I'm not counting on him.

One thing I just thought of that might mean I'm stupid but I'm not sure is what about a little bit of Devron Bostick action?  He was huge last year in the big win at Madison when the team needed some offense and I know he's shot like crap this year but he had a really nice game against Iowa in limited time and showed flashes against Purdue as well.  Maybe it's time to give him some confidence, tell him to go play and he won't get yanked immediately if he makes a mistake, and see what he can do.  You have a better idea?  If they can cover up for him on defense his offensive game might be what they need.  I don't know.  And yes, I know I'm grasping.

3.  The Spartans really struggled against Iowa in East Lansing, what does that mean?  It means the Spartans aren't invinceable, but we pretty much saw that when the Gophers made the game close at the Breslin Center.  It also means that their ranking of #6 in the country is ridiculous right now.  Better than West Virginia?  Duke?  Georgetown?  No way.

I think they still have the potential to be that good, but until Kalin Lucas starts shooting better and the team starts taking better care of the basketball they are vulnerable.  The Gophers just need to take advantage.

4.  Tell me about Turnovers?  The Spartans have been a turnover prone squad most of the year, averaging around 15 a game, and the Gophers have been in the top ten nationally at forcing turnovers.  So what happened last time they played?  Sparty only turned it over 8 times and won a close contest - the type where a few more turnovers might have made the difference.  In their next two, Michigan State then turned it over 16 times against Illinois and 15 against Iowa - two teams that are absolutely wretched when it comes to forcing them (220th and 278th in the country).  This is the biggest advantage the Gophers have, and they absolutely will need to force several more than 8 if they want to pull the upset.  The press should be used all game and home court will help, but with the absence of Al Nolen the team might not be able to get it done.  Damian needs to come up big.

5.  Are the Spartans beatable at the Barn?  Absolutely.  I said it in the last preview, I said it above, and I'll say it again - I'm not impressed with Michigan State this year, or at least not as impressed as I had expected to be.  The 16-3 and 6-0 records look good, but they've struggled with some mediocre teams, their only good non-conference win was over Gonzaga, and with the exception of the home win over Wisconsin nothing in the conference record stands out as particularly impressive.  With the Gophers hanging close at the Breslin I was anticipating calling this a Gopher win.  However the loss at Indiana raised some serious questions, and Nolen's suspension raises quite a few more, so I just can't see it.

Michigan State 68, Minnesota 63.

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