Golden Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers
3:30 pm (CST) at Assembly Hall (Bloomington, IN)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: Big Ten Network
Welcome to the wacky world of Big Ten basketball, where with injuries, suspensions, and unbalanced schedules everything appears and is possible. At the beginning of the day, Illinois was tied for Michigan State in first place. Michigan State has an easier time with the Illini than they did the Gophers, and now Illinois suddenly looks like the team that barely beat the four worst teams this year. Suddenly, Purdue looks like a bottom feeder, playing without passing and looking very ordinary in a road loss at Northwestern. Northwestern previously lost to Wisconsin who beat Purdue, who lost at home to Ohio State, who then beat Wisconsin at home. Even Iowa managed to knock off behind a 20 -10 game from a guy that averages 6 points and 4 rebounds. This year anything can happen, and the Gophers need to remember that.
Last year when the Gophers played Indiana they forgot that anything can happen at anytime in Big Ten basketball. They escaped Bloomington with a flat 4 point win in which they trailed most of the first half and never led by more than 2 possessions. Clearly not learning the lesson of that first game, they escaped the second game with a flat 8 point lead in which they had more turnovers than assists, and despite a double digit lead most of the second half could never put the Hoosiers comfortably away.
The Gophers should beat the Hoosiers on Sunday, and should do so rather easily, but they will need to show up ready to play. Indiana has more talent than last year. Jeremiah Rivers, a transfer from Georgetown, is their new starting point guard averaging six points, five rebounds and four assists per game. Christian Watford, a freshman forward, leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Maurice Creek was the leading scorer, but after fracturing his knee cap will have to sit out the rest of the season. Even with a considerable influx of talent, the results on the floor remain the same. They picked up a win in their first game of the Big Ten season thanks in part to 29 free throw attempts, but otherwise have had performances ranging from mediocre to awful. They have losses to Boston and George Mason on neutral courts and Loyola Maryland at home. Their win over Pittsburgh is the bright point of the season, but that was months ago with Indiana at full strength and Pittsburgh not. The Hoosiers aren’t as bad as they were last year, but they sure aren’t good.
Indiana plays an uptempo style at a pace equal to the Gophers, but they need to slam on the brakes. They commit turnovers on nearly 23% of their possessions, ranking #263 in the country taking care of the ball. The Gophers obviously like to play fast as well, and force the sixth most turnovers in the country. Most of their turnovers come off of steals (nearly 11% of their possessions end in a steal) so there should be plenty of points off turnovers. They are not a horrible shooting team, when they manage to get a shot off, making 34% of three pointers and 47% of two pointers. Managing to get shots off isn’t their strong suit though as 12% of their shots are blocked.
Defensively Indiana is just mediocre. They rank 80th in the country in field goal defense, and are slightly better at defending two pointer than three pointers. They do, however, force a fair number of turnovers, most likely from teams not used to playing at a faster pace. In a sure sign of bad defense, they foul a lot, ranking 284th in the country in free throw attempts allowed.
Rebounding is the one area were the Hoosiers might be able to match the Gophers. They rebound offesnively about as well as Minnesota, but give up more offensive rebounds than the Gophers. Don’t be surprised if the Gophers do dominate the boards. In the Big Ten they have been rebounding much better. Only Penn State had a significant rebound edge against the Gophers, and Minnesota still won that game.
Keys for the Gophers
- Get out to a fast start. Their goal should be to replicate the Iowa game, that was all but decided in the first few minutes.
- Press! Tubby Smith is reluctant to press on the road, and it almost cost the Gophers a win in Bloomington last year. The Hoosiers don’t take care of the ball anyway, and speeding them up even more and creating opportunities should keep the Gophers from resorting to their half court offense.
- Give Ralph the ball. He showed signs of life against Michigan State. He needs more opportunities and more confidence heading into next Saturday’s home game against Michigan State. He had 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 blocks in Bloomington last season.
Keys for the Hoosiers
- Forget the last 7 minutes of the Michigan game. They were down only 48-42 before being blown out 69-45. Scoring only a point every 2 minutes isn’t going to result in a lot of wins.
- Get Verdell Jones back on track. The former Gopher recruit has a combined 8-27 in his last two games. Teams can’t win if their second leading scorer is that cold.
- Contain Blake Hoffarber. Teams can’t win if their second leading scorer is that cold.