Hoops previews are rare around TDG. Way back in the day I used to preview most of the games while PJS would do the review. That gets tough for 18 Big Ten games packed into two months. And without the talents of PJS around I chose to do recaps while I incorporate a tiny preview into the open thread. With that little history lesson out of the way I look forward to the future, Saturday morning to be exact.
This will mostly be from the perspective of someone who is much more familiar with Minnesota than he is with Indiana. I have seen portions of Hoosier games and have been very impressed, but I am no expert on Hoosier basketball. I was watching some of their Butler loss and with about 6 minutes left in the 2nd half my 6-yr old asked if he could watch something the TV. I figured I didn't need to bogart the TV all day so I let him...#foolish. Anyway, now that we have that little parenting lesson out the way, let's take a look at tomorrow's game with a look at each of the team's strengths and potential advantages.
This is a Hoosier advantage as they might be sporting the best starting lineup in the country. Not the five most talented guys necessarily but the best balance with five guys all able to best utilize their strengths. A year ago, when the Gophers went to Assembly Hall and beat #8 Indiana when we all thought the season was a total loss, Indiana struggled a bit in the backcourt. The Gopher win saw 2 assists, 7 turnovers and 1-8 shooting from three from the three starting guards. But Yogi Ferrell has been a huge addition to the lineup allowing everyone to fit perfectly into their roles. Jordan Hulls is an excellent shooter, Victor Oladipo is incredibly athletic, Christian Watford is an experienced scorer and Cody Zeller is an All-American.
I'm not declaring this an advantage but the Gophers will need to be a cohesive, defensive unit. Andre Hollins needs to contain Ferrell so Joe Coleman doesn't have to leave Hulls. All five guys need to contain penetration so we don't give up open threes or dunks for Zeller. Fortunately, team defense is a strength for the Gophers. Reportedly there have been stretches of defensive lapses for Indiana, but that tends to happen to everyone. Not saying one team has an advantage here but this is a key for the Gophers.
The Hoosiers have struggled when teams get physical with them. That is our forte and it might be enough to keep us in the game till the end. One of my favorite Indiana blogs, Inside the Hall talks about this in their game preview...
Minnesota is extremely physical and that’s a style of play these Hoosiers haven’t always responded well to. Georgetown tried to be the aggressor in a November meeting at the Barclays Center and it nearly worked as IU needed overtime to dispatch of the Hoyas. Butler was even more physical with IU, particularly on the glass, and it worked to the tune of an 88-86 upset. With a long week of preparation and a 17-point drubbing of Illinois to use as a fresh example, Indiana will be well aware of the physical prowess Minnesota is capable of bringing.
Like I said, this is a strength of ours so advantage us.
Home Court Advantage
This is going to be a juiced up and hostile crowd, should be a tough environment for the Gophers. But this team seems to thrive in these situations. I'll get to composure next but I don't think this team will shy from a tough road game. A year ago we came away with a win in Bloomington and the year before we came up just 3 points short. I'd be foolish not to give this advantage to Indiana but I also have confidence that this team will not wilt in the pressure.
Advantage Minnesota. Am I saying that just because I'm a Gopher fan and therefore I think we'll be more mentally tough than a team that I am much less familiar with? Maybe. But this Gopher roster is as mentally tough as I've seen in a long time. At Illinois is equally as difficult a road venue to play in and when the Illini went on a huge run to cut the lead to just 2; their home fans were blowing the roof off of their Assembly Hall. We handled the pressure, calmly went on a run of our own and put the Illini away.
Look back at the Michigan State game and how we were down 5 late and used a 22-4 run to end the game. This team has played a much more difficult schedule this year and they have handled pressure situations with toughness and determination. Indiana will have the home court (and likely the referee) advantage but they will not crumble.
Advantage Indiana. This game will probably be a better fit for some of our bench players and an opportunity to contribute more than they did at Illinois, but this is clearly an Indiana advantage.
Both teams run their offenses and make things difficult on opposing defenses. The team that gains an advantage in possessions should have a huge advantage. Whether it be offensive rebounds (likely advantage Minnesota) or turnovers (likely advantage Indiana), we cannot allow Indiana to have significantly more possessions than us. In fact I think we have to give ourselves more or we will lose. Each team getting the same amount of opportunities will favor the deeper Hoosiers.
I'd be foolish to tell you that I'm convinced the Gophers are going to win. I think they absolutely can win and I think we are playing great basketball right now. I don't think there is a time when I'd rather be going to Indiana to play than right now. We appear focused, we don't get rattled, we are healthy and we are playing so well together. My gut tells me we win, my head says we lose by 4.