I am so jacked for tonight. Even though it would have been a horrible idea from a rest and wise spending habit perspective, I'm still sort of bummed that I didn't try to go up to the Cities, watch the game, and come back all in a 12 hour stretch. A plan so stupid it would have been brilliant. Anywho, my plan is to scare the cat to the great amusement of my wife while I watch this one from my couch. But just what should we expect from our opponent, the #5 ranked Michigan Wolverines? To find out more I contacted Zach Travis from the cleverly named SB Nation site Maize n Brew.
The Daily Gopher: I was really looking forward to watching the Gophers play the #1 team in the country tomorrow so consider this question a formal statement of disapproval for the loss to Ohio State. =) Now that I've started us off on such a friendly note, can you share some quick thoughts about what you think happened on Sunday? Is there anything from the loss that worries you coming into tomorrow night?
Zach Travis: I was pretty excited for Michigan to get the number one ranking as well, but you can't go down 21 points in the first half and live to tell about it. That Michigan was able to fight back and make it a game is comforting in the long run -- another positive sign that this Michigan team isn't overrated -- but there are still a few issues that raise concern for the rest of the season.
Michigan's offense struggled early when Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were thrown out of their normal rhythm and denied the ability to get into the lane to create shots and passes. This forced Michigan's offense to operate for long stretches around the perimeter -- even late in the game when Michigan had already fought back -- and ultimately cost Michigan the game. If Minnesota can stymie Burke and keep Michigan from slashing, the Wolverine offense that has been so good will slow significantly.
TDG: Trey Burke is the guy everyone knows. Who is the other guy you think Gopher fans should be most afraid of?
ZT: First is Hardaway Jr. He has been one of Michigan's best scorers this year and is a great slashing swingman. He is at his best when he attacks the basket and forces defenders to play off which opens up three-point attempts. The other two dangermen are both freshmen. Nik Stauskas has been Michigan's outside shooter and the third option on offense. When Burke is beating guys off the dribble and effectively using screens, Stauskas has the most to gain. Then there is Glenn Robinson III, the second of three former NBA-progeny. Robinson III is an athletic combo forward that starts at the four, does a hefty share of rebounding, and can score in a variety of ways. He is a five-star recruit and also Michigan's fourth scoring option on offense. I feel like I should throw a first-world problems hashtag in here or something.
TDG: Minnesota fans have 3 big areas of concern right now: starting games too slowly, giving up too many offensive boards, turning the ball over too much. Which of those areas do you think Michigan can most easily exploit? What sort of total gameplan would you like to see Michigan implement to beat Minnesota?
ZT: I think Michigan is most primed to take advantage of the first one, but I don't think it is very likely. Michigan has had some recent struggles coming out of the gate hot, and this game could be no exception. Although, given the offensive firepower and the fact that this team can run and clean up the defensive boards, and Michigan could jump out to a quick lead if things click early. Meanwhile, Michigan's defense isn't a turnover forcing machine (although the offense is really good at holding on to the ball, so it doesn't matter), and the offensive rebounding is good, not great. Odds are probably highest that a quick start does it in this one, but I think this is a pretty evenly fought game from what little I know about Minnesota.
TDG: Where do you think Michigan matches up poorly with Minnesota? Who on the Minnesota team worries you the most?
ZT: The biggest matchup problem I see is Michigan dealing with Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe all game, although those are the two Minnesota players I am most familiar with. Michigan's front court is the weaker area of the team, so these fears aren't completely unfounded.
TDG: What are you predictions for Thursday night?
ZT: I think the game is close throughout. Michigan doesn't turn back into the merciless offense it was earlier in the year, but it doesn't pull a repeat 12-minute streatch like it did against Ohio State. The game probably finishes in the 60s for both teams with Michigan pulling away by a couple points after bouncing back following the Ohio State loss. Hopefully I am right, but Minnesota is certainly good enough to prove me wrong -- especially on the home court.
I'd love for Zach to be proven wrong. Again, thanks to Zach for stopping by and a reminder to everyone to stop back throughout the day for more coverage on the game including the always entertaining game thread!