It is the second weekend in January, and the Golden Gophers, yes, your Golden Gophers, are playing in what might be the game of the year in the Big Ten. Regardless of what happens against the Hoosier, they’ll play their second consecutive top ten opponent on Thursday. The Minnesota game against the Indiana Hoosiers will be the first top ten match-up in Assembly Hall in 13 years. The Big Ten Network is running an hour long, on location pregame show before the game. The Gophers have barged their way back into big time college basketball.
How to watch and listen:
The Big Ten Network will start their coverage bright and early at 10 am central time, with tip-off just after 11 am. If you don’t want to hear Gus Johnson get really confused about the “Hollins Brothers” 1500 AM will be carrying the game as always.
How the Gophers got here:
In a game that will eventually prove how good the Gophers are or how bad Illinois is (or neither or both) the Gophers blew out the Illini by 17 points. It was Minnesota’s third straight win to start the conference season and also their sixth straight road win dating back to last season. Each of the Big Ten wins has been by double digits. The last time the Gophers didn’t win by double digits was at Florida State on November 27th. They won that game by nine.
How the Hoosiers got here:
Indiana enters Saturday’s game ranked #5 in the country with a 14-1 record and undefeated at home. They are 2-0 in the Big Ten with a mostly unimpressive four point win at Iowa and a blow-out over hapless Penn State in Happy Valley. Their lone blemish was against Butler in overtime on a neutral court. The Hoosiers’ first two Big Ten games are a microcosm of their season so far, blowing out terrible teams and struggling a bit against the not so terrible. They once had two good wins, but as Georgetown continues to struggle to score 50 points and North Carolina backslides into the Matt Doherety era, it is becoming clearer that the Hoosiers ranking and gaudy statistics might be built upon a fragile foundation. According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, North Dakota State is Indiana’s best win. That isn’t to say that the Hoosiers aren’t the 5th best team in the country or a favorite to win the Big Ten title. It is to say that no one at this point can accurately say how good the Hoosiers are or will be.
Gophers Statistic to watch:
Minnesota’s turnovers woes have been baffling. They are not baffling because they are new or unexpected. They are baffling because the Gophers continue to win despite a fundamental inability to take care of the basketball. They rank 11th among Big Ten teams giving the ball away on nearly 24% of possessions in conference play. Nationally, teams commit turnovers on 20.6% of possessions. Minnesota will not be able to get away with giving the ball away against the Hoosiers, who love to push the pace and thrive off of a dunk-induced frenzied crowd. The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in transition possessions during the non-conference season and won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Hoosiers statistic to watch:
Thanks to Indiana’s less than impressive strength of schedule (ranked 294th by Pomeroy) a few of their statistics are likely inflated, especially defensive rebounding. On the season the Hoosiers rebound 72.8 of their opponents missed shots, but that has dropped to 67.7% in the conference season, 10th in the Big Ten. In their loss to Butler, they allowed the Bulldogs to grab 48% of their missed shots. Indiana really likes to get out and run after missed shots, but it seems that they, like the Gophers, occasionally forget to bring the ball along.
The most important Gopher:
The starters are just fine, thank you very much, but the bench has to step up, especially against a team as good as the Hoosiers. At some point fatigue or fouls will doom one of the starters, and someone will need to take their place. Last season in the win at Indiana, the bench played by far their best game of the season. Oto Osenieks and Maverick Ahanmisi combined for 14 points. Julian Welch scored 10 as a starter for injury slowed Andre Hollins. Even Elliott Eliason hit a clutch 15 foot jumper. The Gophers don’t need to rely on an unexpected outburst, but a bit of competence and confidence would be helpful.
The most important Hoosier:
Jordan Hulls is the second most efficient offensive player in country. He doesn’t shoot the ball often enough, and is prone to an off night. Against Iowa he was 0-10 with 0 points. When he is on, he may be the most dangerous outside shooter in the country. He is a better three-point shooter than a two-point shooter, so whomever is guarding him can not lose track of him, particularly off screens. Over half his shot attempts are three-pointers, and 82% of his made three-pointers come off an assist.
It will be Joe Coleman versus the world, and Coleman just needs to guard somebody. The versatility of the Hoosiers’ and Gophers’ starting five is striking. Every starter on each team can guard any of the others team’s starters. Joe Coleman has the physical ability to be a good defender, but he can get lost. There is nowhere for him to hide against the Hoosiers. On offense he needs to continue to be productive without absentminded turnovers that could easily turn into dunks.
What to expect:
Honestly? I have no idea, and I’m looking forward to it. I have no idea how good the Hoosier’s are thanks to their joke of a non-conference schedule and relatively easy start to non-conference play. I keep waiting for the Gophers to come crashing back to earth, but they just keep playing better and better. Minnesota’s historical road woes might be too much to overcome, but they also might be gone.