Fresh off a depressing loss against Indiana, Minnesota returns to the friendly confines of the Barn on Wednesday to play Northwestern. Both the Gophers and the Wildcats most recent win were against the Hawkeyes. Northwestern is just 2-10 in conference play this season.
Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats
Where: Williams Arena
When: 8pm CST Wednesday February 18
1. Don't Fall for the Trap Game
Northwestern is not a good basketball team, not historically, and certainly not this year. But as they proved in their most recent game, being bad never stopped teams from winning games. The Gophers are more talented than the Wildcats. The Gophers are better on both offense and defense than the Wildcats. The Gophers have better uniforms than the Wildcats. If Minnesota believes that it can win on talent alone, the Gophers will lose to the Wildcats.
Northwestern has several decent pieces. Tre Demps, Bryant McIntosh, and Alex Olah play the most minutes and generate the majority of Northwestern's offense. Demps is a chucker of the classic mode, with the highest usage rate of any player who gets meaningful minutes coupled with an eFG% and TS% below 50%. McIntosh is the best three point shooter on the team. Olah is big and a decent rebounder. Still, the Gophers are not playing Wisconsin. If they come out with the right attitude, Minnesota should win.
2. Rebound the Basketball
A great way to avoid trap games is to never let them be close. A great way to avoid games being close is to only allow your opponent one shot each possession. The Gophers were roasted by a hot shooting Indiana team in part because Indiana got a variety of wide open looks off offensive rebounds. Northwestern is a slightly below average offensive rebounding team in conference play, but does have some size that could be a problem. Perhaps as importantly, the Gophers struggle to box out. Since the Indiana game, the Gophers are the worst defensive rebounding team in conference play. As the Gophers tend to want to get into the transition game as quickly as possible, failure to grab defensive rebounds means that players are out of position and forced to scramble back on defense. Minnesota can ill afford to do this against good teams, but there is no excuse for doing so against bad ones.
3. Find Some Bench Scoring
Against Indiana, four of Minnesota's starters were in double figures. The Bench combined for 6 points. If Pitino continues the Charles Buggs Starting Experience, there are two capable scorers that come off the bench, Nate Mason and Carlos Morris. Both players need to be more involved on the offensive side of the floor. Without them scoring, certain lineup combinations are nigh unwatchable on offense, something Pitino has been forced to play because of foul trouble to starters.
Northwestern is exactly the kind of team to get some confidence in the bench. The Gophers can afford to put players out for longer to see minutes and hopefully perform. Bounce back games from Mason and Morris would be welcome.
- Gophers by 10. This game should not be particularly close. Minnesota is playing at home and needs every win for even a (very slim) chance at NCAA Tournament play.
Andre Hollins has another 20 point game and shoots at least 40% from distance.
- Carlos Morris scores in double figures.