After struggling to get off to good starts for the majority of the first half of the season, the Minnesota Gophers decided to use a full-court press to change all of that Saturday afternoon in Iowa.
Typically, the Gophers have struggled at Carver Hawkeye arena losing in four of their previous five trips. Tubby Smith's strategy was to press the young Hawkeye's and force them into as many uncomfortable situations with the lack of agility and dribbling ability in the Iowa backcourt.
The first half was a landslide which created a huge lead for the Golden Gophers. The Gophers forced 18 first-half turnovers, converting them into 31 points. At one point, the Gophers led 43-18 with about five minutes remaining in the half.
A dominating and suffocating performance by the short-handed Gophers was surprising considering they were without their leading rebounder and shot-blocker, Ralph Sampson III. Seven Gophers had two or more steals, Damian Johnson had four blocks, and the entire roster contributed rebounding the basketball.
Offensively, Blake Hoffarber continued to shoot extremely well from the field and particularly from behind the three-point line. After a 5 of 7 performance from downtown on Saturday, he has improved his three-point field goal percentage to nearly 51 percent. With Hoffarber shooting this well, the Gophers have looked like a completely different team offensively.
It seems to spark others on the team as well, there is saying that good shooting is contagious. In the Gophers latest seven game winning streak, Hoffarber has shot 46 of 70 from the field. The Gophers as a team have averaged over 89 points per game.
Also, when the Gophers have scored 70 points this season, they are 11-0. All together it is pretty obvious that with Blake Hoffarber shooting the ball so well, the Gophers have a chance to beat anyone in the Big Ten.
They will get their toughest test of the season next Tuesday when they travel to Indiana to play the No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers (13-0). Purdue absolutely dominated the undefeated No. 6 West Virginia Mountaineers (11-1) from start to finish in their game on New Years Day. Purdue led by as many as 25 in the second half against a team that had defeated Marquette on a miracle last second shot earlier in the week.
It was a prime spot for a let down game on the part of the Mountaineers and they are not as bad as they played against Purdue. The question left unanswered is, how good are the Purdue Boilermakers? Predicted to finish second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State by many bracketologists, the Boilermakers have won all of their games comfortably thus far.
Decent wins against Alabama and Wake Forest coinciding with domination over West Virginia has built quite a resume for Purdue. If they continue to play to the level that they have, Purdue will be at the top of the Big Ten when all is played out.
Tuesday will be a very tough road test for Minnesota considering how well Purdue has played. Minnesota lacks that significant win on their tournament resume. They struggled in their holiday tournament this year after winning in the first-round against No. 10 Butler. Three straight losses knocked them out of the top 25.
They followed that losing streak up by winning the next seven leading into the upcoming Purdue game. The key for the Gophers will be to limit the open shots they give to Robbie Hummel. If the Gophers can control the tempo of the game and make shots, the full court press that they have used to force mistakes will likely take its toll on the Boilermakers also.
Juniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore will likely take about 40 percent of the Boilermakers shots on offense. If the Gophers can hold those to less than 25 points they should have a very good chance on the road Tuesday. Minnesota will continue to count on Blake Hoffarber to shoot well from the outside and will need contributions from a number of others on their bench.
With impressive depth and teamwork the Gophers have all of the tools necessary to cause havoc for Purdue. The tempo early in the game will be the tell-tale sign of which team will have the advantage.