The Gophers got a a splash of cold water after walking into the Breslin Center on Thursday, as they fell victim to a savvy, veteran Michigan State squad 74-58. The Gophers hung tough for much of the game, but foul trouble and shooting inconsistency caught up to them in an environment that is very difficult to win in.
It was the first of three big-time opportunities for Minnesota to get a win for their resume, but arguably the most difficult. The Big Ten is as tough as ever, and now the Gophers come home to host Michigan and Penn State, two teams that, while beatable, sit in the current top 20 in the AP Top 25.
Taking care of business at home will be paramount to finding a path to the NCAA Tournament for the Gophers. And with few pushovers in the conference this year, winning games like the one on Sunday becomes more of a necessity than a nice-to-have. Yikes.
The good news is that the Gophers are playing at a high level. The bad news is that they’ve left themselves little room for error the rest of the way.
Michigan Wolverines (11-4, 2-2)
Date and Time:
Sunday, Jan. 12 @ Noon CT
Tell me more about the opponent.
The Wolverines are currently #19 in the AP Top 25 poll and have already notched wins over Gonzaga, Creighton, Iowa and Purdue this year. Those are some fancy wins. Losses have come Louisville, Oregon, Illinois and Michigan State
But let’s not miss the obvious point here: the last time Juwan Howard was in Williams Arena his 15th-ranked Michigan squad lost to the 20th-ranked Gophers 70-58 on Jan. 20, 1994.
Sunday’s game marks the first visit by Juwan Howard to Williams Arena saw his 15th-ranked Michigan squad lose to the 20th-ranked Gophers, 70-58, on Jan. 20, 1994. Records from that game were later vacated by the NCAA.
On paper Michigan has won three of its last four games, but dig a little deeper and they’ve lost three of their last four against teams in the KenPom top-200. They got obliterated by Michigan State and needed two overtimes to beat Purdue at home in their most recent game.
Senior forward Jon Teske leads the Wolverines in four different categories: scoring (14.7), rebounding (8.2), blocks (2.1), and steals (1.1). Perhaps the most dangerous player is senior point guard Zavier Simpson, who leads the nation in assists. averaging 8.9 per game. He is also the team’s third leading scorer at 12.1 points per game.
Another veteran team, Michigan is very efficient on offense and doesn’t turn the ball over often. They have the 12th-best eFG% in the nation.
The Gophers are slightly favored in KenPom and are 1.5-point favorites in Vegas, which seems curious given their recent struggles, but also should provide a glimmer of hope heading into this home matchup.
Minnesota was playing at a very high level before the Michigan State blowout. Can they find the energy to take down the Wolverines? Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur have to show up for that to happen, and Gabe needs to find his shooting stroke.
I’m taking Michigan by 3.