Date: January 31st
Opponent: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Where: Williams Arena
When: 5:00 CST
Watch: BTN (with easy access to a liquor cabinet)
Let's get this out of the way first (in part so I will not have have to write it again in any preview): Minnesota, barring a freak conference tournament is not going to the NCAA Tournament. That alone makes this season a disappointment. Institutionally, the firing of Tubby Smith signaled (correctly) that Minnesota expects to compete for the NCAA tournament. Since the Gophers are not Kansas, I do not believe that there should be an assumption that they will make the tournament every year, but there absolutely should be the assumption that their tournament chances are still alive halfway through the Big Ten season.
Contrast them with Nebraska, another perennial doormat that looks on its way to back to back NCAA tournament appearances. You may also remember them from the nearly unwatchable game 10 days ago when the Gophers lost to the Cornhuskers by 3 after shooting 47% from the free throw line. Just so we're all clear, Nebraska is not a juggernaut. The Cornhuskers lost to Incarnate Word earlier in the season and are coming off a loss to a depleted Michigan team. Nonetheless, as a fan I would much rather be in their position.
Incidentally, Do you know who the leading Minnesota rebounder in that game was? Did you guess Andre Hollins? Did you shed a single tear 1970s PSA style that a 6'2" player had almost as many rebounds as the entire Minnesota front court?
1. Get Hollins Some Help
Hollins has played very well over the last four games. He has been scoring at a high rate from both outside and in, getting rebounds, and putting other teammates in positions to succeed. In the Rutgers and Illinois games, he had some help carrying the offensive burden. In the two losses, the rest of the team has been MIA. Unless we're talking about the Talor Battle era Nittany Lions, no player can lead a team to victory without a second scorer. Honestly, it does not matter where the secondary scoring comes from, just that it exists.
2. Use Home Court Advantage
One bright spot for tonight's game is that the Gophers play at home, where they are a dramatically better team. Not that this should be surprising. The differences between a tournament team and a team that is likely to decline an invitation to the CBI are great, but one difference is that tournament teams win on the road. At home though, the Gophers appear far more comfortable. At home Minnesota has an offensive rating in conference play of 113.9. On the road, the team has an offensive rating of 86.7. That is a difference of .27 points per possession.
Maybe it is the raised floor, maybe it's the weather, but whatever it is the Gophers need another strong offensive performance.
3. Stop Terran Petteway
One trend in beating Nebraska this year is Petteway having inefficient offensive performances. He's either scored little, like his recent 7 point game against Michigan, or been a purely volume shooter to put up points. Nebraska has other options, but they're decidedly inferior. If the Gophers can hold him to a similar performance like they did in Lincoln, they have a good chance to win. Of course, if we knew ahead of time that Petteway would score 11 points and the Gophers would hold Nebraska to less than .8 points per possession, we would have bet the Gophers would win and look how that turned out.
- Minnesota uses the home court advantage and win 62-57. This prediction is as much about hope as it is about analysis.
- Andre Hollins is not Minnesota's leading rebounder.
- At some point during the game I look at the following to make me feel better