Although most of the sport-watching eyes of the state will be tuned to the Metrodome and the playoff game between the Vikings and Cowboys let's not forget that your beloved Gophers have a little bit of a tester pretty much immediately following that game - at Indiana. Normally Indiana isn't someone to worry about, especially since the Gophers have handled bad teams this year with little trouble, but sandwiched between two Michigan State teams with the second one coming at home, it's very possible the Gophers could fall into the trap of looking ahead (and behind) and sleep on a Hoosiers team that would love to pull off an upset, if only to give the faithful something to cheer about.
Once again, the critically acclaimed five questions:
1. How bad is Indiana? Bad. Like, really bad. Last year's team was 1-17 in the conference and was an embarrassment, and I'm not sure this team is that much better, particularly after losing leading scorer and probable future star Maurice Creek with a broken kneecap (holy god does that sound painful). If you were optimistic you could say the eight losses are slightly deceiving since the Hoosiers have played some good teams, but then you would also notice that they lost to George Mason, Boston U, and Loyola-Maryland and realize you were lying. They rank 127th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy's stats (and remember, most of the year they had Creek), one of the worst rankings amongst the big conference teams, and are 177th in offensive efficiency and 105th in defensive. They are projected to win only one other conference game (home vs. Iowa.) So pretty bad.
2. Is there anybody we have to worry about? Freshman swingman Christian Watford is the team's leading scorer (outside of Creek) and has scored in double-figures in every Big Ten game (season average = 12.8). He's mainly an inside/driving player and at 6-9 he could be a problem - but the Gophers have Damian Johnson. Last year's leaders, Devan Dumes and Tom Pritchard, have essentially disappeared. Verdell Jones is their second leading scorer, and there's no way Nolen can't handle him. I have no idea how they are going to score points. They'll be lucky to get to 40 against the Gophers.
3. How are the Gophers going to dominate? Other than with their shut down defense against that crappy offense? Fine, we'll get more specific. Indiana turns the ball over often (244th in the country), gets the ball stolen often (225th), and has their shots blocked regularly (301st) - these are all things the Gopher defense excels at (turns - 6th, blocks - 6th, steals - 6th). The Gophers also defend the perimeter well, and Indiana can't shoot. As long as they are able to keep guys like Watford and Jeremiah Rivers from dribble-penetrating they should be able to hold the Hoosiers down.
4. What about on offense? I expect a lot of points in transition off turnovers and missed Indiana shots. It should be obvious to everyone by now that this Gopher team sucks in the half-court, so they need to get out and move and keep the game up-tempo. That plays into everyone's strenghts - Hoff can get open looks, Ralph's biggest advantage on other centers is his athleticism not his strength, Nolen, DJ, Westbrook, Devoe, and Paul Carter are all better when they are running. Indiana likes to play a fast pace so this should play into the Gophers' hands. My biggest concern would be if the Hoosiers get back and turn this into a bunch of set possessions, something Minnesota sucks at.
5. So what's pissing you off about this Gopher club? Other than the inability to score in a half-court set? Let's see:
Nolen still gets into the lane too often with no clue what he's doing.
Westbrook still loses focus and loses his man without the ball too much, not to mention disappearing on offense at times.
Hoffarber is relied upon to be a huge part of the offense, but can't get his own shot and the team doesn't do a good enough job of getting it for him.
I'm still debating if Colton Iverson is a Big Ten center and wish Rodney Williams would be more assertive.
Ralph is far, far too passive at times and refuses to make plays when he should (did you know there is a thread at Gopher Hole talking about how well Ralph played against the Spartans? Those people are looney tunes over there).
I don't know what Devoe is doing, but he seems completely caught between a point guard and a shooting guard. He's like Ronzonni in Bad News Bears in Breaking Training when he was caught between his Catfish Hunter and his Warren Spahn.
Is that enough for you? Throw in the fact that I'm confused by a lot of Tubby's decisions, and to say I'm worried about this team is an understatement.
Not so worried that I think they will fall to Indiana, however. The one and only good trait this team has demonstrated consistently this year has been their ability to take it to bad teams and not let them stay in the game. Even with all the trap implications and a road game, they should roll.
Minnesota 75, Indiana 53.