Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Game Preview: Gophers vs. Stupid Badgers

I hope you aren't too disappointed that you didn't get a 10 Things I Liked and Didn't Like about the Iowa Game post.  The problem was that I watched it while being jumped on nearly non stop by two young children which, in case you don't know, is non conducive to making observations about some of the minutia going on at the game, which I try to do.  Additionally, I didn't work Monday so oops drunk Sunday night.  Also it's the kind of game that I didn't expect the Gophers to win and I'm not upset that they lost.  Yeah, that 10 point lead in the first half was fun and interesting and all, but unfortunately Iowa is a very good team this year and there's more important games coming up.  Essentially Iowa made every god damn open shot they had and when they missed they got the rebound.  THE END.  That's not very fun to write about, so instead we move on to Wednesday's game against the stupid, stupid Wisconsin Badgers and noted baby eater Bo Ryan.

First things first - this is not your typical Badger team.  First of all, this is the fastest paced Wisconsin team since 2007.  Second of all, after two years of absolutely elite level defense this year's Badger team is merely very good and after I watched them get torched by both Indiana and Michigan I'm willing to say they might not even be that.  I'm not disparaging Wisconsin (the team, I am definitely disparaging the state and do every day) because it would be hard to find a better non-conference resume, but this team is different.  The principles are the same, and the things they do well and struggle with are the same as every year under Bo Ryan, but overall it's a more dynamic team, a faster team, and a team that can put up a ton of points in a hurry, as Illinois can tell you.  They can still grind it out, see the Virginia game, but unlike years past controlling the tempo and speeding the game up is not necessarily a successful strategy this year.

Maybe their biggest offensive weapon is they can shoot, and that goes for essentially everyone who may get playing time against Minnesota outside of Nigel Hayes, and he adds a whole different dimension I will get into later if I don't forget.  Wisconsin has generally been super reliant on the 3-ball for their offense (some things don't change) but this season they can shoot.  They're hitting 39.2% of their 3-point attempts, their best mark since Ryan showed up, and at the same time they're shooting fewer of them, the fewest on a % of field goal attempts basis since 2009.  It's a more diverse offense because guys like Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser can actually get to the rim, and they have an actual post presence in Hayes, their first real post up guy since maybe Marcus Landry (no, Ryan Evans does not count).  In case it's not obvious, yes, I'm very scared of this team and have said so since the preseason.

Fortunately though, as Indiana and Michigan have just shown, they can be beaten.  Both were able to torch Wisconsin with hot shooting, and that's really the way to beat the Badgers.  They don't cause turnovers much at all so you're going to get your shots, it's just a matter of getting good shots and making them, and if you miss you're not likely getting another chance at it because they rebound well on the defensive end.  They still play the same suffocating up the line defense with heavy denials on the wing, so it's essential Mathieu and Dre Hollins can get past their man and into the lane to draw defenders and create open looks, because perimeter ball movement on it's own doesn't work against Wisconsin.  Of course, beating them down the court and scoring in transition is always a great option for this team as well.

One other possible advantage the Gophers have is inside, because unlike the majority of Wisconsin team's in my lifetime this team doesn't really have a big body to go up against Elliot Eliason or Mo Walker.  Frank Kaminsky is the tallest player on the team at 7-feet, but he's not exactly a banger, although he is a capable shot blocker based on his size and reach alone.  Their one rough and tough inside guy is Hayes, but he's just 6-7 and as a freshman has some issues with fouls.  I would feel better if the Gophers had more inside options or at least a power forward who is, you know, and actual power forward, but hopefully the EE/Mo combination can take advantage.

Before the Ohio State game I would have said there's no way the Gophers could beat Wisconsin, and even though Ohio State is continuing to struggle that doesn't change anything for me.  The game against the Buckeyes showed that Richard Pitino can put together a solid game plan, even one out of his preferred style of play, and the current personnel has the ability to stick to it.  Wisconsin is always so good at dictating the game that you usually end up having to adjust, it's just an advantage to the Gophers that this season the Badgers are a little more like a normal, human team.

Both teams have some solid advantages, and luckily for the Gophers their three biggest weaknesses: turnovers, getting killed on the offensive boards, and 2-point defense are things that will matter less against Wisconsin than against most foes.  It will all come down to creating open shots and making them on both sides - as long as Wisconsin doesn't shoot lights out from three (and they certainly could) I feel good about the Gophers' chances.

Minnesota 73, Wisconsin 66.

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