Like most rankings that have more to do with computers and calculus than people, the RPI leaves a lot to be desired. While it is not as flawed as the BCS rankings, and can be useful to compare teams that have not and will not play each other, it shouldn’t be then end all and be all of pre-game predictions.
Looking strictly at the RPI rankings, Ohio State should be expected to win handily. Their RPI ranking is in the mid-20’s according to most websites that keep track of this sort of thing, while Minnesota is ranked in the mid-70’s. However, when examining the seasons of both teams so far, there are more similarities than differences. Both the Gophers and the Buckeyes have won and lost the games they were supposed to win and lose. Neither team has what could be considered a defining or suprising win. The only real difference between these teams is that Ohio State has lost to better opponents, which the RPI awards. Though, I can’t complain too much because it allowed the Gophers to back into their only top 100 win. Even though Iowa State was thoroughly dominated by Kansas the other night, it actually helped their ranking. The wonders of modern technology…
Before you accuse me of being a Luddite, let me say that the world of computer rankings and new-fangled statistics isn’t all bad, because some of these new-fangled statistics show why the Gophers have an outstanding chance to pick up their best win of the season tonight.
Down with Goldy correctly points out that turnovers should be the deciding factor tonight. Minnesota is the best in the country at forcing turnovers, while Ohio State is one of the best (or worst) at turning the ball over. Jamar Butler, hailed by some as the best point guard in the Big Ten, is a senior leader that rarely makes bad decisions, but when he doesn’t have the ball, look out. Kosta Koufos turns the ball over three times more often than he makes an assist. David Lighty barely breaks even, and Evan Turner is about as bad Koufos. In fact, after Butler, only two OSU players have an assists to turnover ratio greater than one.
The Gophers have real opportunity is this game to set the tempo of the game and make their already shaky ball handling opponent frantic . With the return of Al Nolen, the Gophers should press early and often. Against Indiana and Michigan State, Minnesota was reluctant to press because of their relative lack of foot speed and the many solid ball handlers on both the Spartans and the Hoosiers. Competent ball handlers is not a luxury the Buckeyes have, and getting the ball out of Butler’s hands will give them a huge advantage.
The Gophers could also have an advantage on offense. Word on the street, or at least from one beat writer who doesn’t always know what he is talking about, is that Ohio State likes to play a zone defense. If that is the case, Blake Hoffarber and the other Gopher outside shooters should get plenty of open looks. Dan Coleman has also been excellent at finding gaps in the zone and attacking the basket. Best of all, zone defences rarely allow trips to the free throw line, and Ohio State is the best in the country at preventing free throws. You can’t miss free throws if you don’t take them.
Inevitably, like every game the Gophers have played so far this season, the final score will come down to rebounding. Unlike last year, Ohio State is not a particularly good rebounding team. Although they have size, especially with Zorba I mean Koufos patrolling the paint, they rebound worse than the Gophers. More than anything else, Koufos is a European big man (he plays a lot like Dan Coleman). He may present match up problems for whoever is stuck with him on the perimeter, but getting him out of the paint will be a trade the Gophers are willing to make.
Ohio State may still find a way to win, or the Gophers will find a way to fail to win, but the game should be competitive for at leat 38 minutes.
Prediction: Tie game with 15 seconds left, at which point Greg Oden hobbles on to the court, blocks a shot with his cane, is fouled, and makes 2 left handed free throws, and blocks a last second shot by the Gophers, once again with the cane, to preserve the win. Actually, Minnesota will find a way to lose, but it won’t have anything to do with geriatric 20 year-olds. anOSU 69 Minnesota 67