This probably seems like a weird time to come back. The Gophers are now 0-3 on the Big Ten Season and at this point the only decent wins they can point to are an almost blown win against an ok Georgia team and a win at Wake Forest that we still aren't sure if it's a decent win or a throwaway win. The team's best player is pretty much in the tank and may or may not be still or newly hurt and the team depth seems to be getting shallower by the minute. A gritty effort was proven to not be enough, and the team continued the tradition of screwing up end of game possessions, dropping a heart breaker that would have been enough to restore some optimism to the fan base. It's not a wonderful time to be a fan.
But you know what? Kind of it is. The loss to Purdue basically told me everything I needed to know about what kind of team and year this was going to be (and this isn't hindsight, I said so in the preview) so, after a mini-breakdown or tantrum or hiatus or whatever term you prefer, I returned to watch the game against Ohio State with zero expectations, other than expecting the Buckeyes to win. With lowered expectations comes lower stress levels and in a strange way more of an enjoyable viewing experience. So after the Buckeye loss instead of being angry about another missed opportunity, I was pleased they hung in there and more of an "aw shucks would have been nice to get that one." That's not being happy with a moral victory, it's simply accepting reality. There was almost no way they were going to win that game - Ohio State is about 50 times better than they are - and it would take something miraculous to make the NCAA Tournament. Once you accept that, it makes this year much easier to swallow.
So with that out of the way, let's move on to Saturday's game at Michigan. The Wolverines have had some much celebrated issues this year - the losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan - and, well, we still don't really know what's up with Michigan this year. They started strong with wins over decent Syracuse and Oregon and hung tight with Villanova and everything looked like they'd be ok. Then came those two horrible losses followed by an absolute drubbing by Arizona. Since then they've won an overtime home game against Illinois, lost at Purdue, and lost at Penn State. So who really knows what's up with this team? I lean towards lower middle tier Big Ten team with very little shot at teh NCAA Tournament, so this should be a pretty even match up.
The bad news is the Wolverines really take care of the ball, and in particular they rarely have it stolen away - the Gophers #1 move. The good news is they aren't particularly good at anything else. This isn't one of the great shooting teams of the past few years, although they sure do like to chuck the three. Of all Wolverine 3-point attempts so far this year, 43.5% of them have been three pointers, and the team makes 35.9% which is a good, but not great number. Guards Caris LeVert (39%) and Derrick Walton (29%) and wing Zak Irvin (35%) all have over 50 3-point attempts already on the year, and all are capable of putting up either a 5-7 or 1-7 performance. They rely on those three heavily, and all play 33-35 minutes per game, scoring about 60% of the team's points. Getting the three to put the ball on the floor and take contested 2-pointers would be an excellent strategy, rather than letting them find open threes. Anyone helping on a driver off a perimeter shooter should be benched immediately (that includes Spike Albrecht, who doesn't have the volume but hits 40% and needs an open shot to score).
After those four nobody else plays more than 19 minutes per game and you may have noticed those four are all perimeter players so you may be asking "does this mean Michigan is weak inside" and the answer is a resounding yes. The only size on the team comes from three freshmen - 6-7 Kam Chatman, 6-9 Mark Donnal, and 6-9 Ricky Doyle and although the three have been better than I expected (combined 50 minutes, 16 points, 9 rebounds per game) they still aren't much of an inside presence. They don't block any shots (Michigan is 335th in the country in block rate) or grab any offensive rebounds (322nd), though they do protect the defensive glass well overall (40th). Mo Walker should (SHOULD!) be in line for a pretty big game.
All-in-all to me it looks like a pretty even matchup, and that includes the Wolverines' home court advantage. The Gophers should be able to feast inside, while Michigan will have plenty of chances to hit outside shots. I think if the Gophers let the pressure of being 0-3 get to them, they'll do stupid things and miss open shots. If they're relaxed and playing ball, they'll win. This one's on Pitino.
And I still believe.
Minnesota 69, Michigan 66