This is going to be an outstanding game at The Barn tonight. The best venue in the state is going to be loud and rocking tonight. I am jealous of those who will be in attendance.
But more important than a great college basketball atmosphere is the anticipation of a great game that results in a Golden Gopher win. Below are a handful of things to watch for tonight. These are not necessarily "keys to the game" but there are a number of interesting match-ups, strategic differences, tendencies, etc.
DEFEND THE PICK'N ROLL
Anyone remember the game at Michigan last year? The Wolverines were a very good 3-point shooting team and we held them to 6-20 from behind the arc. When the threes were not falling coach Beilein made an adjustment to run Trey Burke off high ball screens all night long.
Burke capitalized on fewer bodies in the paint because of players not helping off Smotrycz and Hardaway. It created openings down low for passes and plays while also helping him take some midrange jump shots.
"We really wanted to get out on their 3s," Williams said. "But we couldn’t stop Burke from the pick and roll. … That was all him getting to the rack and the free throw line."
And that was the night the legend of Trey Burke was truly born. His 27 points was a season high until he faced the Gophers again in the Big Ten Tournament. The point here is that the Gophers had appeared as though a ball screen was something new. Ball screens are not easy to defend but the Gophers better be prepared and have a plan.
OWN THE PAINT
Get this, the Wolverines put the ball in the post on 1.8% of their possessions. By comparison the Gophers put the ball inside on 8.9% of our possessions. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are solid guys in the paint, particularly when it comes to rebounding. But Rodney Williams should have a huge advantage inside, Mbakwe should also be able to assert himself against Morgan.
Both teams have some legit talent in the backcourt, with an advantage going to Michigan. The Gophers need to pound the ball inside and own the paint. When we are playing on our home floor with a tremendous crowd, I'll trade twos for their three attempts all night.
Wit that said, watch for Michigan to play plenty of zone forcing us to shoot our way out of it. The key here will be getting the ball in the high post and killing the zone from its heart.
TREY BURKE vs. ANDRE HOLLINS
Dre is really looking forward to this match-up. He felt as though he struggled more than he should have against Yogi Ferrell on Saturday but he is being afforded an opportunity to redeem himself. Those two entertained us with a great Big Ten Tournament game and both are back to face each other again in a huge game.
"When he came back, I was excited," Hollins said. "I love playing against the top point guards."
In that March game they combined for 51 points and 9 assists. This should be another good one as both are critically important to their team's success. Hollins better be prepared to play defense tonight, I'm desperately hoping for a "shut-you-down" attitude. You aren't going to stop Burke from having a big game but you can limit his effectiveness by defensively frustrating him.
GUARD THE THREE
So we have to defend the pick'n roll and we have to defend the three. This is what Michigan does, they shoot the three and they are really good at it. They are 2nd in the nation in eFG% and they get 31.8% of their total points from three. Minnesota gets just 22% of our points from three. Get to the three and we have a better than pretty good shot at beating them.
The Barn rocking better create a huge home-court advantage. I won't be there so this is up to you guys. I want ESPN to show the face of Tim Hardaway Jr looking around as if to say "wow, this is CRAZY! and I can't hear you!"
Lastly, don't get too carried away if we happen to drop this game. We are facing the #5 team in the country who many believe will be a Final Four team. Losing, even at home, is not the end of the world. It just probably means we are more likely to finish 3rd than we are to finishing 1st.
Should be an awesome atmosphere, a great game and hopefully a huge Gopher win.