Joe Lunardi, ESPN's Mr. Bracketologist, has the Minnesota Gophers as one of his last four teams to be on the outside looking to get into the NCAA tournament. Lunardi opines that the Gophers need to beat Michigan and Iowa in their final two games to receive a bid.
How can anyone disagree with Lunardi’s assessment? Minnesota’s record of 17-11, with an 8-8 record in the Big Ten that boasts four teams in the top 25, is the very definition of a bubble team.
Tonight, the Gophers play the 13-15 Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
A win tonight and Minnesota likely goes on to crush Iowa in the season finale at home. A loss tonight and the Gophers will need to the win the Big Ten post-season tournament to make the NCAA tournament.
In order to beat Michigan tonight, Minnesota will need to: (1) stop DeShawn Sims, (2) get a solid performance from their young "Twin Towers" Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, and (3) get good ball rotation between Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook.
Michigan is basically a two man team with an outside and inside presence. Mr. Outside is 2009 First Team All Big Ten player Manny Harris. Mr. Inside is 2009 Third Team All Big Ten player DeShawn Sims.
In the first matchup between the Gophers and Wolverines this year, Sims destroyed Minnesota, scoring 27 points on 12 for 18 shooting from the field with four offensive rebounds.
The 6'8'', 235 pound Sims poses a unique match-up problem for Minnesota.
If the Gophers put Damian Johnson, Rodney Williams or Paul Carter on Sims, Sims can use his 30 pound size advantage to secure a good position in the low post. Coach Smith could go big on Sims by sending Ralph Sampson III or Colton Iverson to cover him, but then Sims can use his quickness to his advantage over the taller Gopher players.
The Gophers will likely use quick double teams when Sims gets the ball in the post. While Minnesota likes to play man-to-man defense, Coach Smith may mix in some zone defense to stymie Sims, or if the Gophers get into foul trouble early in the game.
Minnesota's "Twin Towers" of Sampson and Iverson need to show up and play hard in Ann Arbor. They didn’t play well on the offensive end and they didn’t play well on the defensive end the last time these teams met.
In the first game, Sampson scored only seven points on two-for-seven shooting; Iverson scored only one basket in limited action. Also disturbing for Gophers fans was the fact that Sampson and Iverson grabbed only six rebounds between them.
The Wolverines have only one player in their rotation, 6'10'' 220 pound reserve Zach Gibson, who can match up with the length of Sampson and Iverson. Gibson, coming off the bench, outplayed Sampson and Iverson in the first meeting. In a mere nine minutes, Gibson scored eight points.
If the Gophers are going to win in Ann Arbor, Sampson and Iverson are going to need to play well and use their length to their advantage. The Gophers likely need to generate 20 points and 12 rebounds or more between Sampson and Iverson.
The guard combination of Joseph, Westbrook, and Hoffarber played well the last time the teams met. The Michigan guards got very few open looks as they shot four-for-ten from beyond the arc and only two-for-seven inside the three point line. Minnesota in comparison made 9 of their 22 field goals and was 5 of 13 from beyond the arc.
Joseph, Westbrook, and Hoffarber, with a potential NCAA bid on the line, can’t be satisfied with simply matching the guard play on Michigan. The Gophers need to outplay the Wolverines.
There are a couple of facts that suggest that the Minnesota guards will get the job done in Ann Arbor.
First, Minnesota shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc, whereas Michigan shoots only 30 percent from beyond the arc. Joseph shoots 36 percent and Westbrook shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc, while Hoffarber leads the Big Ten in shooting from downtown at 48 percent.
Second, Michigan's guards are way too overconfident in their ability to shoot from three and sometimes shoot themselves out of games with their shot selection.
Despite making only 30 percent from beyond the arc, Michigan has shot 674 three pointers. In contrast, Minnesota has only 491 three-point attempts. Michigan may do the Gophers a favor and rely too much on the three point shot.
Finally, Michigan does not do a good job locating their opponent’s deep threat option. Hoffarber went four for eight the first time the Gophers played the Wolverines. Hopefully, Michigan’s bad habit will continue against the Gophers and Hoffarber will get several good looks tonight.
Minnesota can receive a NCAA tournament bid this year. The Gophers, however, need to get busy and beat the Wolverines tonight.
A win over Michigan and Lunardi will need to move Minnesota from one of the last four teams out of the tournament to one of the last four teams to make the tournament.