Not a ton to say about the Nebraska game. It was nice to see the Gophers cruise to an easy win and nicer to see Rodney Williams look like the good Rodney Williams again, but it was obvious from the opening tip that Nebraska isn't nearly in the same class as the Gophers and, as such, it's tough to take too much away from that game other than the wheels haven't completely come off this season. Still, breaking a four game losing skid is always a positive, so there's that I suppose. Really a home game against Nebraska couldn't have come at a better time. Hopefully they can continue playing well against Iowa on Sunday, because the Hawkeyes are a significantly better team than Nebraska.
They come in to the game at 14-7 and 3-5 in conference play and they do have some pretty good wind and, if it wasn't for an absolutely brutal non-conference strength of schedule (#320) they'd probably actually be looking at the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. One of those conference wins was over Wisconsin and they swept the other two Iowa schools (Northern and State). Their problem is they haven't beaten anyone else - at all. They've lost to every other decent team they've played (with near miss wins at Carver-Hawkeye against both Indiana and Michigan State) and padded that record by beating up on bad teams with a win over Gardner-Webb as their next best win. The NCAA dream probably died when they lost in OT to Purdue on Sunday, but this is certainly a team the Gophers should beat since they're a much better squad.
One thing that plays in the Gophers' favor is that Iowa likes to run and keep games at a fast pace. The Hawkeyes play at the 46th fastest pace in the country and although the Gophers aren't necessarily a big-time running team because I think Tubby Smith would yell at everyone if they fast breaked too much, they do tend to have success in transition because of their athletic advantage over most teams. Not to mention their struggles against Northwestern and Wisconsin, who rank 321st and 355th in tempo, so staying away from those long, slow, boring half-court games is a good idea. Iowa will shoot early and shoot often, and with them ranking 9th in the conference in shooting (by effective FG%) and the Gophers back to playing solid defense (one can hope) that should lead to plenty of rebounds, which bodes well for Minnesota.
Looking at the awesome site hoop-math.com (thank you JF at From the Barn for showing me this), the Gophers take 16% of their shots following a rebound within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, meaning a fast break off the miss or on the secondary break. Their effective field goal percentage is also the highest of all situations that occur at least 5% of the time. The Gophers are going to need to take advantage of as many transition opportunities as they can because once in the half court Iowa's defense is stingy, particularly on 2-point jump shots where they rank 14th in the country in Opponent's FG%.
Looking at Iowa's players they go nine deep and most of them have some redeemable skill, but Roy Marble and Aaron White are the guys to watch out for. Actually, I'm not worried about White to be honest. He's gonna be overwhelmed by Mbakwe and I expect he'll struggle mightily for most of the game since he does most of his scoring deep in the paint. Marble is the guy to watch, because he is truly talented and can score from anywhere on the floor. He's an excellent shooter from both 2 and 3, handles the ball well, and because he's 6-6 with guard skills he can usually rise up and get that jumper off over smaller guards. The Gophers have the luxury of putting Austin Hollins on him, and they damn well better, who should be able to help pester him and make it tougher to get that shot off, but if Joe Coleman ends up on him at any time well let me tell you that is not going to end well for Minnesota no sir.
The rest of the squad is pretty much a mixed bag. A couple of freshmen (Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons) start in the back court with Clemmons the distributor and Gesell the shooter with another freshmen in Adam Woodbury starting at center next to White. At this point Woodbury is pretty much a good rebounder and good shot blocker but has little to no offense game. Off the bench they go with Josh Oglesby (the supposed shooter who can't shoot), Melsahn Basabe (who showed so much promise as a freshman but has stagnated the last two seasons), and Eric May and Zach McCabe who have been around forever but I still couldn't tell you who was who. One of them is taller than the other one. They also have a guy who rarely plays named Christopher Rickert who may or may not be related to Rick Rickert. I'm not going to check so let's just say he's his cousin.
Anyway, although Iowa is certainly a step up in class from Nebraska, they still aren't the kind of team the Gophers should have trouble with whether you think they're just not that good, or think they just hit a bump in the road. I'm leaning towards the latter.
Minnesota 82, Iowa 62.