You guys remember way back when we thought the Gophers were a top 10 team with Final Four aspirations and they were going into Bloomington to play a monster game against the #5 Hoosiers? And then Indiana played a perfect first half to jump out to a 23 point halftime lead and we like oh man? And then the Gophers showed a tremendous amount of heart, hustle, and all out warrior mentality and came storming back and came within a botched rebound off a missed Indiana free throw of having a chance to improbably send the game to OT? Well I have bad news and bad news: Indiana is playing those perfect halves (sometimes two in one game) more and more often, while the Gophers have stopped showing any of those traits that helped get them back in the game at Assembly Hall.
Since that game, Indiana has gone 9-2 with blowout wins by 23 (Penn State), 37 (@ Purdue), 29 (Nebraska), and 28 (Purdue) to go along with marquee wins over #1 Michigan (by 8), @ #13 Michigan State (by 5), @ #10 Ohio State (by 13), and #4 Michigan State (by 4). They started the season as a juggernaut and are finishing as a juggernaut. They're blowing out bad teams and beating good teams, home and road. Meanwhile the Gophers are limping into the end of the season with their only three victories since the game in Bloomington coming in a lucky OT win against #20 Wisconsin, a last second win over Iowa, and a blowout of terrible Nebraska. Their last two games were a 19 point road loss at Iowa and a 26 point road loss at Ohio State. To say these teams have gone in opposite directions is a bit of an understatement, like saying Jennifer Lawrence is decent looking.
Statistically it's tough to find anywhere the Gophers have an edge. Minnesota should get some steals and block some shots and that's where the good news ends. Indiana lights it up from three, the Gophers can't defend the three. Minnesota turns it over like crazy, Indiana creates a good amount of turnovers. The Hoosiers are a great free throw shooting team, the Gophers are slightly below average (and outside of Hollinses are terrible). The Gophers biggest strength is getting offensive rebounds, and Indiana is adept at not allowing this to happen. The closest thing to a weakness for the Hoosiers is that they do turn the ball over almost as much as an average team (19% of possessions vs. national average of 20.2%). Can the Gophers play the kind of defense that forces Indiana into turning the ball over, all the while not getting too overextended with their aggression to allow open looks from both 3 and 2? They'll have to.
Indiana is simply loaded. They have two guys who are in the National Player of the Year discussion in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo who play different positions and impact the game in different ways and either or both can win a game basically on their own if they needed to. They have the underpants gnome in Jordan Hulls whose range starts when he crosses half court and who hits 50% of his threes anyway. All that without even mentioned Christian Watford yet, who might be the best inside/outside player in the conference. Even their one-time offensive weakness, freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, has started to figure it out after realizing that nobody can keep him out of the lane. He still can't really shoot, but he's morphed into a Lewis Jackson type player, only one who still thinks he can hit threes - hopefully he takes a ton of them on Tuesday.
I realize everything I've written makes it sound like I think the Gophers have no chance, and that's not true, but I've just been so demoralized by the last two ass whippings it's tough to get positive right now. Normally I could point to the Gophers outscoring Indiana 52-36 in the second half in Bloomington and springboard that to the Gopher upset, but unfortunately the current Gopher squad so little resembles that team in its play that it may as well be a different season.
Even so, that second half and the first Illinois and Michigan State games say this team still has the talent to pull this one out, even if their recent plays gives very little indication that it would be possible. The players have to know just how big this game is, and if Tubby can find a little magic and rally the troops I still think the home court advantage in Williams could be enough to put the Gophers over the top, they just need a little bit to break right.
On the other hand, after looking lost for the better part of a month to the point where the players look to be close to quitting and Tubby can't blame the players for screw-ups fast enough the team almost looks like it's heading for a full breakdown. If Indiana jumps out to, say, a 15-5 lead that might be enough for everyone to go into their shell, pack up their things, and call it a day. That's why the first 8 minutes on Tuesday are going to be the most important. If Minnesota stays close, even if they lose but show that same ability and mental toughness from earlier this season, it will make me feel much better about the final stretch. If the Hoosiers win easily, however, it might be time to start making NIT plans.
Indiana 80, Minnesota 68.