Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Game Preview: Minnesota Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers

Coming into this year I thought the Indiana Hoosiers had a chance to surprise some people.  They certainly have some talent:  Christian Watford is one of the best forwards in the league, and he, guards Maurice Creek and Jordan Hulls, and forward Derek Elston were all top 100 recruits two seasons ago.  Junior Verdell Jones was a top 150 guy when he came out as well, as was freshman guard Will Sheehey.  So, at least on paper, there is some talent here.  For whatever reason, however, it just hasn't given stellar results.

Part of the problem stems from last year's unfortunate injury to Creek, who blew out his knee in the 12th game of his freshman year and was out for the season.  Prior to that point, Creek had been averaging 16.4 points per game, including a 31 point outburst against Kentucky.  Coming back this year, it seems he's not all the way back, whether it's physical or mental I don't know, because his scoring is way down at just 8.7 per game, and every other statistic is worse this season.  Maybe the biggest clue something is still wrong is his steals, which have dropped from 1.4 per game last year to a grand total of 3 so far this year in 15 games.  That sucks, and it's unfortunate for him, and it's a big reason the Hoosiers haven't been able to improve this year.

Not to say there isn't anybody putting up numbers here, because Christian Watford is a complete beast, and he's very good at scoring the basketball (not counting the Penn State game).  He leads the team in scoring at 17.2 per game, helped out quite a bit by an ability to get to the line (second in the conference with 99 attempts) and make his shots when he gets there (83%).  And although he mainly gets his points inside and mid-range, he can also hit the three-pointer when he's left open, hitting 16 of 28 attempts this year (42%).

Outside of Watford there isn't anybody who is a consistent threat.  Verdell Jones is the second leading scorer at 12.2 per game, but he's just as likely to score in single-digits as double (50% of each so far this year).  Behind them there are several guys who chip in a few per game, although the guys to really watch are point guard Jordan Hulls and wing Victor Oladipo, both of whom have scored in double figures in each of Indiana's last three games. 
The place where the Gophers can really get some points is, and this seems to be a common theme, in the paint.  Although Watford is a good rebounder (5.5 per game), nobody else on the team grabs more than 4.2 boards per game, and the only other players on the roster as tall as him at 6-8 are Elston, Bobby Capobianco and Tom Pritchard, and Pritchard and Capobianco rarely play and Elston's rarely makes his presence known on the court.

So, once again, the best way to win will be to get the ball into Sampson, Mbakwe, and Iverson and letting them go to work.  Not only is that the team's best way to score, but it will also help mitigate the loss of Devoe Joseph, who at present time is still on the team but won't be playing for an indefinite period of time.  I'll have more to say on this subject if he indeed ends up transferring, but for now let's just say he'll be a loss, but not a huge loss.

The most likely way the Gophers lose this one is also a familiar story, and that is once again playing poor defense.  Indiana hasn't been able to put together a good game against a good team, but overall they are a good shooting team.  They make 38.5% of their three-pointers, 41st in the country, and 54.5% of their two-pointers, which ranks 19th.  They've compiled those numbers against some very bad teams and haven't really come close to knocking off a quality opponent.  With the Gophers tendency to let teams get wide open looks, that could easily change tonight at Williams.

Minnesota 71, Indiana 66.


Aar Man said...

Rough game but good win. You're right though, they haven't looked the same since Puerto Rico. Also, your boy Sampson was tough to watch tonight

WWWWWW said...

He's the most frustrating player I remember watching in a long, long time. All kinds of talent but man, I'm starting to find it harder and harder to defend his passiveness.