If you are interested in a more formal preview of Sunday’s game between the Golden Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes, you should read our preview from two weeks ago. The information is still valid, and rehashing it all would be boring. So instead, here are a few thoughts.
- I’ve often discussed the life, death, and possible new life of the Gopher-Hawkeye basketball rivalry. Sunday’s game should be the most meaningful game in the rivalry since 2005. Iowa basketball was dreadful when the Gophers made consecutive NCAA tournaments, and both teams were pretty bad each of the last two seasons. On Sunday, both teams have a lot to play for. A Gopher win would go a long way towards locking up an NCAA tournament bid. For the Hawkeyes, Sunday is play-out game. A win won’t put them in the tournament by any means, but loss would put them in dire straits with eight conference losses, and a trip to Indiana still on the schedule. Because Iowa doesn’t have many impressive wins, 9-9 might send them to the NIT.
- While it certainly doesn’t feel like it, the Gophers are now a long way from the bubble. The win over the Badgers wasn’t only a huge psychological relief for the players, coaches, administrators, fans, and the spouses and significant others of the players, coaches, administrators, and fans, but it was also another top 50 win. From a tournament résumé standpoint, the Gophers have plenty of good wins, and even the loss to Northwestern is not that bad. Thanks to those good wins, an 8-10 Big Ten record would likely be enough to make the tournament and with a 9-9 record they would be a tournament lock and a six or seven seed. Not all conference records are created equal. While Tubby Smith’s two tournament teams were true bubble teams and snuck into the dance, that won’t be the case this year with a 9-9 record.
- In a recent interview, Tubby Smith stated that he didn’t care if the team committed 50 turnovers per game as long as they played loose. We’ve recently seen several awful offensive games by the Gophers. There was no movement on offense. Players refused to penetrate or make aggressive passes. No one shot the ball. The result was not a lot of points, but not too many turnovers either. Committing turnovers on 20% of possessions isn’t sustainable, but scoring in the 40s is even less sustainable. If there is any truth to Tubby’s new perspective, we should see the offense open up a bit, which would probably be a good thing even if there are still too many turnovers.
- I haven’t checked it out myself, but apparently the Gophers are 2-6 when all the starters play less than 30 minutes in a game and 4-0 when they play at least 30 minutes. On Thursday, Trevor Mbakwe clocked in at 34 minutes, the fewest of any starter. Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins each played 43 minutes. Playing the starts that much might not be sustainable in the long run, or possible in every game due to foul trouble, but playing the bench more than an absolute minimum also isn’t sustainable.
- Trevor Mbakwe needs more touches. His teammates need to do a better job of getting him the ball, but when he is four or five inches shorter than the player guarding him, he isn’t always open. I expect we’ll see him in the game more often with Elliott Eliason, not only so the taller defenders will guard Eliason, but because Eliason is one of the few Gophers that can make an entry pass to the post. As long as Eliason can keep his head on straight, not commit turnovers, and avoid foul trouble, he is one of the few bench players that is an asset to the team.
- Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa’s leading scorer, didn’t score a point against the Gophers earlier this season. In the last two games, he scored 21 and 22 points. He won’t be scoreless any time soon, and the Gophers will need to keep him in check.
- Minnesota’s biggest offensive problem right now is the inability to make shots. If you ignore the first 12 minutes of the Wisconsin game, and I think we all would, the Gophers had an offensive plan, found plenty of open shooters and slashers, and couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean. The Gophers haven’t shot 50% or better from two-point range since the previous Iowa game. If a team can’t make the easy shots, it becomes very difficult to win. Making shots is a lot easier when they are open shots, and it is a lot easier to get open when players are actually moving. It seems like the Gophers sometimes forget to move on offense, and suddenly, they randomly remember. Hopefully we see a lot less standing the rest of the season.