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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Michigan

The Gophers look for their fifth straight win in the two teams’ only meeting

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers survived Indiana in a wild one on Wednesday which put them in great shape as they close in on an NCAA Tournament berth. The home games against the Hoosiers and Michigan represented tough challenges, but the Gophers needed at least one win from this homestand so it’s great to get it out of the way.

Minnesota now hosts the Wolverines, who are chasing the same thing the Gophers are — to be a lock when Selection Sunday arrives. Minnesota and Michigan face each other only once this year, so neither will have a shot at redemption after today. Further, they each represent to the other an opportunity to pick up another nice, resume-building win.

The Wolverines are on a three-game win streak and have climbed to 7-6 in the conference. The streak has included a road win over Indiana and a home win over Wisconsin, so they definitely have quality wins. Still, they very much on the bubble at this point and are in the Last Four Byes category in Lunardi’s Bracketology. Will they be face a letdown after an emotional home win over Wisconsin?

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Michigan Wolverines (17-9, 7-6)

What time are they playing?

6 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Michigan is KenPom darling, checking in at #27 in his rankings. Thanks in large part to their offense, which is 11th in the nation from an efficiency standpoint. They’re also very methodical, and have one of the lowest tempos in the nation according to KenPom.

The Wolverines lead the league in FT%, so they’re not a squad you want to put on the line, shooting 79% as a team. They also lead the Big Ten in three point percentage and three pointers attempted. The Gophers, however, lead the conference in three-point defense. So the question is if Minnesota’s three-point defense will disrupt Michigan’s air attack or if it will overwhelm the defense.

The Wolverines are led by two senior guards, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin. They lead the team in scoring, averaging nearly 27 points per game together. Both can the shoot the three very well. Moritz Wagner is the third leading scorer and can also be dangerous no matter where he is on the court.

Keys to the Game

1. Stop the three

Minnesota has the conference’s best three point defense, so it will be a matter of if the defense can live up to its billing. They’ve generally been tough on opposing three point shooters since they got absolutely torched by Maryland, but they’ll have to be at the top of their game today.

It’ll then be up to Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy if the defense can funny the action their way instead of giving up open looks from deep.

2. Get Springs back on track

Akeem Springs was not himself on Wednesday against Indiana and it showed, short of his Superman heroics at the end of the game. Outside of that crazy shot he had a terrible night shooting and his absence in the scoring column was one of the reasons things were so close. Nate Mason is putting the team on his back these days, but with a dangerous Michigan offense in town the Gophers may need some extra offensive insurance through a good performance from Springs.

Predictions

KenPom gives the edge to the Gophers in this one, predicting a narrow 69-67 victory. I think the Gophers fall back to Earth on this one, dropping a close one by 3.