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Men’s basketball preview: Gophers host Michigan in rematch

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Second matchup in 10 days has Minnesota seeking retribution

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

We’ve got a narrative brewing, folks, and it’s that the Gophers can beat anyone at home and can’t beat anyone on the road. Minnesota is 10-4 on the season, having won 10 games at home — including big time wins over Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State — and are winless on the road, with blowout losses in each attempt.

Now, that should come with something of an asterisk, since the Gophers have literally faced four of the nation’s best teams on the road. Should you expect wins in those scenarios? Probably not. Should you expect them to be competitive in at least one or two of those games? Maaaaaybe. Maybe it’s a run of bad luck; after all Wisconsin just got eviscerated by Michigan on the road a few days ago and the Badgers are objectively a great team.

That narrative will be put to the test on Saturday as the Gophers host the Wolverines in what will be the second matchup between the two team in just 10 days. Minnesota got run out of the gym by Michigan at the Crisler Center in what was nearly a 40-point deficit at one point. It wasn’t pretty. Yet, the Gophers have been good to great at home, making Saturday’s contest extra delicious.

The Wolverines are undefeated on the season but haven’t faced super stiff competition on the road yet. In fact, they haven’t played away from home since December. We’ll see.

Once again the Gophers went on the road against a top team in the conference and once against they walked away looking like they had no idea what they were doing. Minnesota was obliterated by the Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday in what can only be described as a complete undressing at the hands of an undefeated opponent. But the schedule gets markedly less intense after this game, so there is light at the end of the tunnel if they can pass this test.

Essentials:

Opponent:

Michigan Wolverines (11-0, 6-0)

Date and Time:

Saturday, January 16th @ 1 p.m. CT

Location:

Williams Arena

TV:

ESPN2

Radio:

KFAN 100.3-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

The Gophers face a ridiculous seventh-straight ranked opponent on Saturday, which is absurd in its own right. Here’s a fun tidbit: the last time any Division I school faced that many ranked teams in a row dates back to 2011 when St. John’s faced eight-straight in 2011. In fact, Minnesota has faced eight-straight ranked conference opponents, a feat that even St. John’s did not have in 2011. It has been a brutal start to the conference season. If you include Saint Louis, who is now ranked, Minnesota will be facing its ninth-straight ranked or “receiving votes” team. Absurd.

But, you can’t change the schedule and the Gophers will have to bring their A-game if they want to take down the Wolverines. Michigan remains the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten in either conference or nonconference action, and freshman phenom Hunter Dickinson blew the doors off the gym 10 days ago, scoring a career high 28 points and he leads the team in points per game (17.5), rebounds per game (7.9) and blocks per game (1.5). He is shooting 70.9 percent from the field, which leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally.

Following him in scoring is Isaiah Livers (13.8) and Franz Wagner (12.5), who both finished with double digits in the first game. The Wolverines boast one of the country’s best offenses and as a team, the Wolverines are averaging 82.6 points per game, shooting 52 percent from the field (which ranks seventh nationally), averaging 7.7 three-pointers per game and 40.1 rebounds per game.

But their defense is arguably what won the game for them previously against Minnesota, and the Gophers had no answer for the swarming Michigan D. They obstructed passing lanes, never let Minnesota get comfortable and held them under 30% shooting for most of the game. In fact, the Gophers almost literally couldn’t score, something that has plagued them on the road so far this season. At home? It’s a different story.

Predictions

The Gophers are finishing a historically brutal portion of their schedule and have already racked up four wins during, which is a victory in itself. A win over Michigan at this point would be gravy, and though a loss would mean a three-game losing streak, it hardly means the season is on life support.

Can they pull it off? Hard to say. The offense hasn’t looked right lately, but both games have been on the road. Dickinson was a real problem for them in game one and Liam Robbins was a nonfactor. He and Marcus Carr will need to be on point if the Gophers want to pull off the home upset.

Hard to pick the Gophers in this one, though I do think they make it closer. Wolverines by six.