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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Indiana

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Gophers look for identity in a post-Lynch world

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, that elephant in the room? That’s just the developing story on Reggie Lynch where he likely won’t be playing for a while due to a litany of things that we won’t discuss in a preview.

Lynch won’t be playing in today’s game against Indiana, or any other games for the foreseeable future. It’s a crushing new reality for the Gophers from a basketball standpoint, who were thin in the front court to begin with. It’s all the more devastating for a shallow team to lose one of the best defenders in the country.

The Gophers came out blazing against a listless Illinois team on Wednesday, showing more tenacity and than we’d seen in games prior. Once again, however, the team hit an early 2nd-half lull, allowing the Illini to roar all the way back from 19-point deficit to nearly tie the game. The Gophers found their footing down the stretch, and won by 10 points, but the mental vacation felt far too familiar. And, unfortunately, Lynch was a monster in the game, with a double double and seven blocks.

It’s hard to say with certainty what the on-court impact of Lynch’s absence will mean for Minnesota’s rotations. GopherNation does a great job of laying that out here, so I won’t recreate the wheel. Long story short, the Gophers are likely going smaller, unless we have uncharacteristic blossoming of Bakary Konate.

We’ll know soon what we’re dealing with. If the Gophers can’t beat a bad Indiana team at home then we’ve probably got our answer.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Indiana Hoosiers (8-7, 1-2)

What time are they playing?

Sat., Jan. 6 @ 4:15 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Williams Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, ESPN2.

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes, 100.3 KFAN.

Tell me more about the opponent.

The post-Crean era of Indiana basketball is off to a rocky start. The Hoosiers have struggled to stay above .500 since opening day, have dropped a couple conference games already and even fell to in-state rivals Indiana State and IUPU-Fort Wayne. It’s not good folks.

Forward Juwan Morgan has made a leap in his junior season to lead the team in scoring, rebounds, blocks and steals. He’s been a horse in the paint, ranking in the top 11 in both scoring and rebounding in the Big Ten. Senior guard Robert Johnson has also been a steady scorer for the Hoosiers, pouring in nearly 13 points per game.

Complicating matters for their tilt against Minnesota is the absence of sophomore starting forward De’Ron Davis, who is battling a leg injury and is the team’s third-leading scorer. Will that be something of an equalizer for the Lynch-less Gophers?

The problem for Indiana has been inconsistent offense and subpar defense. They rank near the bottom of the conference in scoring and scoring defense. Granted, they like to slow the game down, but their scoring margin is the worst in the Big Ten and more than 10 points worse than Minnesota.

Keys to the Game

Feed Jordan Murphy

With Lynch missing, Murphy’s importance to the front court has grown even more, and he needs to continue to dominate the paint as he has. Did Lynch relieve some pressure on Murphy so far this season? Probably. But he needs the ball now more than ever. Especially with De’Ron Davis on the bench.

Get some help from the bench

It’s now or never for the Minnesota bench. Whether by design or simply due to inexperience, they simply aren’t getting any minutes. With Lynch out, there are 30 more minutes to go around. So who gets them, and what do they do with them? There is ample opportunity for guys like Konate, Isaiah Washington and Michael Hurt to show they belong. Heck, even Davonte Fitzgerald will probably see more minutes out of necessity. Who steps up? That will determine the season.

Predictions

KenPom still likes the Gophers in this one, predicting an 10-point win, 80-70, but that doesn’t take Lynch’s absence into account.

Look. The importance of Reggie Lynch to this team can’t be overstated. But this is still a team with four VERY capable starters, including an all-B1G point guard, a preseason all-B1G combo guard and a POTY candidate. They’re in flux, but should still beat teams like Indiana. I’m taking the Gophers by 3 in a battle.