Match-ups trump talent. Minnesota, on paper, was a much better team than Illinois. The Gophers beat teams teams that Illinois could not, won more games, had a much better season, and still lost three times to the Illini. They lost to UNLV and Florida State, but in all likelihood could have beaten teams that handled the Seminoles and the Running Rebels. I bring these teams up, because if you saw the disappointing performance that Minnesota turned in during the non-conference season against these two teams, or any of their three losses to Illinois, you should already know what to expect. Tomorrow night has a very real chance to be very ugly, Tulane in 1996 ugly, when the Gophers lost to an athletic team on their home court in the NIT by 18. The Gophers may have deserved a #4 seed in the first round of the NIT, but they are not built to beat a team like Maryland, even on their own court.
Maryland possesses all the characteristics of a team meant to be the Gophers. They are tall, athletic, big, quick, the list could go on. And remember those teams that Minnesota looked especially bad against, the Seminoles and the Illini? The Terps beat Illinois 69-61 during before the Illini imploded, and they beat Florida State by 10. Meanwhile the Gophers lost by 14 to Florida State, and by 24, 9, and 4 to Illinois. Throw in a 17 point loss to a very similar team from UNLV, and Minnesota just doesn’t handle athleticism. Judging by the decreasing loss margins against Illinois, the Gophers have shown improvement, but it is those losses that ultimately kept them out of the NCAA tournament, and could make their post season experience short and not so sweet.
The Terps aren’t particularly efficient on the offensive end, ranking 60 slots lower than Minnesota, but they average 7 more possessions per game. The pace of the game will play an unusually important role in tomorrow’s game. Minnesota will need to slow it down more than usual (sorry to those watching) and will need to make the most out of their possessions. The Gophers have cut down on their turnovers of late, and this will need to continue. On the defensive end, the two teams are about even on defense, with Maryland slightly better.
Rebounding, which has been an Achilles heal for the Gophers for most of the year, will be especially problematic tomorrow night. Minnesota has been a better rebounding team against who they have played than Maryland has been against their opponents, but the key is who they have played, and the style of play. Dan Coleman is Minnesota’s only player averaging more than 5 rebounds per game. Coleman also happens to be the Gophers second leading scorer. James Gist and Bambale Osby both average more rebounds than Coleman. Garvis Vasquez, one of Maryland’s starting guards, average 5.7 rebounds per game. Both Vasquez and Gist outscore Coleman.
If the Gophers have a chance tomorrow, it will be from forcing a very turnover prone team into mistakes, and being ready to take advantage of unforced errors. The Terps play good defense, and keep opponents from scoring, but they don’t do this by taking the ball away. On the offensive end, they generously give away possessions. Minnesota does this too of course, but has still turned the ball over 70 fewer times than Maryland, while for accumulating 50 more steals. As long as you have fewer turnovers than your opponent, it doesn’t matter that much how many times you turn the ball over.
And the turnovers will keep the game much closer than it should be, but not quite enough for Minnesota to pull off what would their second most impressive win of the year (sorry Ohio State fans).
Prediction: Minnesota 64 Maryland 68
And remember, fear the sweat.
For a more Turtle oriented oppinion on tomorrow night’s game, check out Turtle Waxing. Yes, I didn’t make that name up.