Friday, January 7, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

As a famous computer programmer once said, "Hold on to your butts."

Of course, he also got eaten by a velociraptor, and that's probably a good metaphor for what is likely to happen to the Gophers on Sunday in Columbus, because these guys have stomped on basically everybody, and the Gophers haven't looked good competent since Puerto Rico.  I mean, really.  They have no weaknesses.

Stats wise (via they are scary.  They are the #2 team in the country (behind Duke).  They have the 3rd most efficient offense (behind Duke and Pitt), and the 2nd most efficient defense (behind Kansas).  They don't turn the ball over (11th) while turning you over constantly (2nd).  They don't let you get to the line (1st), grab a ton of offensive rebounds (24th), while never letting you get an offensive rebound (24th).  They shoot very well (5th in effective FG%), both from 2 (56.2% - 8th) and three (39.9% - 22nd) and share the ball well (54th).  The only weakness you can find in the stats is that they don't get to the line much (269th), and are only slightly above average at shooting free-throws (69.2%).  They aren't the best at defending the three pointer (allow 33.1%, slightly better than the national average), but against a team like the Gophers will only one shooter, that doesn't matter?

So statswise things look bleak for the Gophers, but how about the eye test?  Inside they have the size to deal with the Gophers' big men with Dallas Lauderdale and Jared Sullinger, with Lauderdale bringing the defense, Sullinger the offense, and both grabbing a shit-ton of rebounds.  Lauderdale on his own would give them fits, but Sullinger is just so unbelievably good he could swing the balance of a game on his own.  His stats are very similar to our own Trevor Mbakwe's, and they're built similarly, but the big difference between the two is footwork and technique.  While Mbake's game is almost solely built around his strength and athletic ability, Sullinger has that plus great footwork, which leads to a lot of drop-steps into layups, and the ability to hit a jumper once in a while.  I fully, fully expect this to be Mbakwe's worst statistical game this year, because I expect Sullinger to get him in foul trouble early and keep him there.

If that's not enough, their three wings - William Buford, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler - are offensive weapons as well.  Diebler is the best shooter in the Big Ten, not only does he hit a high percentage (51% this year) but he also shoots at a high volume, and because of his height and athleticism (which still isn't great but is better than Hoffarber) he can get open more often, not to mention with all the attentions his teammates take away from him he has more chances to spot up.  Meanwhile Lighty and Buford are essentially two mini-Evan Turners and clones of each other - they do it all.  They can both handle the ball, both can drive, both can score inside, both can shoot from both three and mid-range, and both play excellent defense.  Any team would be lucky to have one of these guys, and the Buckeyes have both.

And just in case you were hoping that their one question mark coming into the season (point guard play) might have developed into a weakness you can forget it.  Freshman Aaron Craft has acclimated himself quickly, ranking third in the Big Ten in assists (4.9 per game) with a 2.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shoots better than 50% from the floor.  Yeah, they're just fine.

And if you're thinking they don't go very deep and only play seven guys so maybe getting somebody into foul trouble would help, you're wrong.  First, as mentioned before, they don't really commit fouls.  Only Buford and Craft have fouled out for OSU this year (once each), and neither Sullinger or Lauderdale have been in foul trouble much if at all.  Second, even if somebody fouls out, they still have all those offensive weapons I mentioned above who can just step in.  Third, I haven't even mentioned DeShaun Thomas, a highly regarded freshman who is averaging 11 points per game in just seventeen minutes and is looking like another Turner/Lighty/Buford type, so him playing more minutes probably isn't necessarily a good thing. 

Lastly, if you're hoping simply to catch the Buckeyes napping and not giving a full effort, Iowa already did that in their last game, leading into the second half, and Ohio State pulled out the win so I wouldn't expect them to come out slowly again, especially since this time they are playing at home.

If this all makes it sound hopeless that's because it is.  The Gopher defense isn't good enough to handle all Ohio State can throw at them, and I can't figure out how the Gophers are going to score any points against one of the toughest defenses in college ball, especially one whose only weakness is three-point shooting, something Minnesota can't exploit.  The first unit may hang in there, but the second unit is going to get absolutely destroyed.

Ohio State 84, Minnesota 58.

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