I think it's fair to say that no one is particularly happy with the way the Big Ten conference started. After looking dominant for the previous seven games against much weaker competition, Minnesota has struggled in their first two conference games. The loss to Maryland was understandable, the loss to Purdue less so. Tonight, the Gophers look to rebound against Ohio State in their first conference home game. Ohio State enters the game ranked #22 in the country.
Opponent: Ohio State Buckeyes
Where: Williams Arena
When: 8:00 CST
1. Starting Back Court
Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu are the two most important players on the team. While other players can score, no other player can dictate the course of the game like the two seniors. When they have poor games, as has happened against both Purdue and Maryland, Minnesota struggles. When they play well, Minnesota can put up 100 points without much difficulty. Against Maryland, the duo combined for 6 points, 3 assists, and 6 turnovers. Unsurprisingly, the Gophers lost convincingly.
Like Maryland, Ohio State also has a star freshmen guard in DeAngelo Russell. Russell leads an up-tempo Buckeye attack that's deadly but reasonably shallow. Only two other Buckeyes average 10 points or more, and Thad Matta rarely plays more than eight deep. Interestingly, the Buckeyes are similar statistically to the Gophers, and have also not beaten a single team in KenPom's top 50. For the Gophers to win, they must win the back court matchup in all phases. This includes creating chances for others.
2. Get to the Free Throw Line
In an ideal world, Minnesota would get to the free throw line and make their shots. For now, baby steps are in order. Thad Matta's teams rarely foul, and play hounding pressure defense in the half court. This year, Ohio State is 11th in the country in giving up free throws attempts per field goal attempt (FTA/FGA). Moreover, the Gophers are woeful at getting to the line, ranking 211th in the country in FTA/FGA.
If there was ever a game to change that number, it's this one. The Buckeyes are prodigiously talented, but their starting five has three seniors, and the Gophers should be more talented than the Ohio State bench. If the Gophers can get the Buckeyes in foul trouble, Ohio State will be forced to relax their defense, creating opportunities to go inside.
3. Good Shots
Against Maryland, Minnesota had 17 shot attempts in transition, which is defined as within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Digging a little deeper into that figure, it's clear that most of these were not on a fast break, but instead a pull up jumper early in the shot clock after a Maryland possession. How did the Gophers do on those shots? Ignoring the ones that were blocked (4 of them), Minnesota had an effective field goal percentage of 11.8%. The Gophers did not make a single three-point attempt in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Ohio State will run wild on teams that take bad shots. Minnesota simply isn't talented enough to pull up and let fly from anywhere regardless of the situation. Carlos Morris should probably never take 21 shots in a game, nor should any player, but in particular should avoid taking long off rhythm jumpers.
Instead, the Gophers should look to replicate the five minutes before the end of the first half against Maryland. During that time, the team played excellent defense, passed the ball quickly and efficiently, forced Maryland into uncomfortable rotations, and were able to find wide open shooters or Mo Walker in the post. Minnesota is at its best when the offense can run through the inside, and that simply cannot happen if the Gophers are unwilling to trust the half-court sets.
- Gophers win 72-68. The entire team comes out with fire and plays the first complete game of the season.
- DeAndre Mathieu has an A/TO ratio of 3.
- Bakary Konate plays and records less than a foul per minute.