Golden Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers
5:30 pm (CST) at Assembly Hall (Bloomington, IN)
TV: Big Ten Network
Just over four weeks ago the Gophers beat Indiana to secure their first win of the Big Ten season. Perhaps, more importantly the karmic forces that have rattled the spirits of both teams’ fans were conspiring to ruin some seasons as well. On that January night, Al Nolen and Verdell Jones faced off at the point, Christian Watford started, and Maurice Creek played one of his more productive games of the season. On Wednesday night, all four will be out of the line up with foot, hand, and knee injuries.
Eleven years ago Clem Haskins was caught cheating. Three years ago Kelvin Sampson was swept up in a recruiting scandal. Both coaches lost their jobs, and things still aren’t quite right in either program. After two seasons of turmoil, hopefully the Gophers have finally paid their penance. Indiana likely has a ways to go. For two programs still dealing with such drama, it only seems fitting that Wednesday’s game will be played in the aftermath of a massive ice storm. Maybe it will have a cleansing effect for both programs?
Despite the constant parade of injuries, Indiana has had a successful week. They beat arch-rival Illinois at home in a game that set basketball back roughly 40 years. They also took Michigan State to overtime in a game that featured less defense than an NBA exhibition. The two games, arguably Indiana’s best of the season, couldn’t have been more different. The 52-49 win over Illinois was completely devoid of offense, with neither team scoring more than .88 point per possession (for perspective, Minnesota’s worst offensive output of the season was .938 points per possession). Indiana managed to win despite shooting 37.5% from the field. In their 84-83 overtime loss at Michigan State, both teams exceed 1.12 points per possession. Indiana was extremely fortunate to face opponents facing the same difficulties as them at the same time.
The Gophers come into Bloomington after a loss to the other Big Ten team in Indiana. They weren’t expected to beat a now top 10 team on the road, and were able to hang with Purdue until the second half when the Boilermakers’ threes started to fall and JaJuan Johnson decided to prove once again that he belongs near the top of every national player of the year list. The Gophers once again went with the giant sized line-up. The biggest fear was that Purdue’s in your face defense would make bringing the ball up the floor nearly impossible. That wasn’t actually the case as the Gophers committed only 11 turnovers. Purdue’s defense did force Blake Hoffarber to be the primary ball handler, and took him away from running off the screens that led to a season high 26 points the last time the Gophers had played Purdue.
Without Hoffarber to shoot from the outside, the Gophers didn’t have anyone who could or would shoot. The Gophers didn’t attempt a single three pointer in the first half, and made only 3-9 for the game. Minnesota’s ball handling woes with the departure of Cory Joseph’s brother and Al Nolen’s injury will haunt the team for the rest of the season, and the Boilermaker defense gave opposing team’s a blue-print to use against the Gophers. Mercilessly harass Hoffarber. Force the ball into the hands of Rodney Williams. Watch the Gophers fail to execute in the half court.
The necessity of Hoffarber bringing the ball up the court is obvious, but the Gophers need to find a way to get him off the ball once the offense is set up, and the offense needs to set up quickly. Minnesota is at its best when they confidently take the first shot available and trust their giant sized front line to track down a rebound if necessary. This is even more crucial without Al Nolen available to crash through the lane with the shot clock expiring. Tubby Smith hinted that the starting line-up could undergo a shift, so don’t be surprised if Austin Hollins is thrust into the designated driver role. Hollins has shown an ability to get to the rim, and Tubby Smith seems like his decision making.
Despite Minnesota’s size advantage against Purdue, they were out-rebounded for the second time this season by the Boilermakers. Offensive rebounds against the zone aren’t necessarily easier to come by, but the zone does negate any size advantage. Being tall and in good position is usually enough in man to man, but there is no such thing as good rebounding position against the zone, especially when missed shots tend to be taken further out and bounce in unpredictable directions. Once the ball hits the rim, quickness prevails, and Minnesota’s size has been detrimental to their quickness. Purdue had the quickness, the defense, and the timely shooting to beat the Gophers.
Luckily, Indiana doesn’t have much in common with Purdue except their general geographic location. They do have a ton in common with Northwestern and Michigan, whom the Gophers beat this season without Al Nolen. Michigan, Northwestern, and Indiana like to play the incredibly annoying 1-3-1 zone. None of the three teams are good on defense. They don’t have much size (the Hoosiers have only three interior players, and they are all 6’9”). Most importantly, they struggle to shoot three pointers without dribble penetration first. With Verdell Jones still out with a knee injury and Minnesota’s huge size advantage, Indiana will struggle to solve Minnesota’s zone, and we should see a lot of long possessions followed by forced three pointers, and hopefully even a defensive rebound or two.
This is another one of those winnable road games that are the key to finishing the season in the upper half of the Big Ten Standings and securing a NCAA tournament seed that won’t require an upset to finally get out of the first round. Indiana had been playing better, but the loss of Christian Watford mean three of Indiana’s four leading scorers and four out of their projected starters at the beginning of the season won’t be in action. The Gophers should win, and it should be as comfortable as a road win in the Big Ten can be (which is to say, nerve wracking for 38 or so minutes). However, Indiana always seems to get up for home games, and as the Gophers proved last year, sometimes the loss of an important player or two is all a team needs to go on a run.