Death From Above: Minnesota, Big Ten Tournament
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
|WHEN||6:30 PM Eastern, Today|
|LINE||M –4 (Kenpom)|
MINNESOTA BASKETBALL: HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTERS.
(thank you, Minnesota basketball, for not making Michigan basketball history's greatest monsters.
With a Rodger-Sherman-murdering overtime victory over Northwestern last night, Minnesota earns the right to play Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. They've also killed an innocent man. I hope you're happy, Oto Osenieks (@ right, smiling abut DEATH DEATH DEATH). HIS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS.
Ah, so, anyway. Minnesota is an incredibly balanced team. Only one player averages more than 66% of available minutes and no one dominates the ball enough to get into the "Major Contributors" category at Kenpom. Chip Armelin does put up a hefty number of shots when he's in the game, but that's only 36% of the time. Scoring can come from anywhere for the Gophers. As we all learned while screaming at the television late in their game against Michigan State, it can also come from nowhere.
Minnesota is down one Ralph Sampson with a knee injury of some variety. He dressed but did not play at all yesterday and is not expected to play tonight, leaving Minnesota with freshmen Osenieks and Elliot Eliason in the post. Mostly Eliason—Osenieks got one minute yesterday, which he used to stab Rodger Sherman in the heart.
Unfortunately for Michigan, you can make a case that Eliason is not a downgrade on Sampson. They're the same size and while Sampson has much higher usage Eliason is a significantly better rebounder on both ends of the floor and not far off when it comes to blocked shots. Eliason has two major issues: he's getting 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes and he's a horrendous free throw shooter (11 of 28 on the year). He was 2 of 5 against Northwestern with six offensive rebounds, a couple of assists, and four fouls in 29 minutes. Sampson's numbers from Minnesota's loss to Michigan earlier in the season were essentially identical.
Minnesota was content to go small against Northwestern when Eliason was out. During those 16 minutes the tallest player on the floor for the Gophers were a couple 6'7" small forward sorts. They'll probably do the same against Michigan.
With Sampson out the headliner for Minnesota was guard Andre Hollins, who blew up for 25 points by hitting five of ten three-pointers. He was at 39% before that and his two-point shooting (34%) is amazingly bad, so the prescription is obvious there: run him off the line, off the line, off the line. With Eliason the main post guy there shouldn't be much reason to sag off of him.
The other main cogs of the Gopher offense at this juncture are Rodney Williams, the aforementioned 6'7" guy, and point guard Austin Hollins. Williams can jump out of the gym.
He also did this to a Nebraska player:
If that looks familiar, you're probably thinking of Zack Novak getting MBAKWE'D last year. Tubby Smith may not be able to get his team to the tournament but by God he can find some freakish power forwards.
Williams reminds me of Brent Petway, except good. However, he's not totally un-Petwayish. His usage is basically the same as all other Gophers, he's another horrendous free-throw shooter (55%), and he's not a threat from deep. He depends on offensive rebounding and assists for his offense and doesn't generate much on his own. So while he shoots 60% from two, you can control his opportunities decently well. Zack Novak's no stranger to matchups against larger, more athletic opponents and should cope decently. There will be a couple of posterizations. As long as Williams isn't getting 15 high-quality attempts Michigan should be able to cope.
The other Hollins was the assist guy against the Wildcats; he was also the turnover guy. He ended with six of the former and four of the latter. He's an efficient shooter from all ranges (84/51/37 percent FT/2/3). Michigan is going to see a different version of him this time out; in Crisler Hollins got just 14 minutes off the bench and didn't score.
Joe Coleman and Julian Welch were the other guys soaking up minutes against Northwestern. Welch came off the bench but got a Stu Douglass-like 30 minutes despite that; he hit half his threes and had a couple offensive rebounds to go with some turnovers. On the season he has by far the highest assist rate of any Gopher and also shoots efficiently (83/50/43). Coleman is a freshman who is not a good offensive player at this juncture and is having more minutes piled on him lately for unknown reasons.
Minnesota is so balanced that anyone could go off; the main threat seems to be massive numbers of three-pointers. The Gophers matched Northwestern's 11 for 26 shooting yesterday; if they do that again Michigan is going to have to keep pace or exit early. Survey says…
The Gophers' nonconference schedule was abysmal. According to Kenpom the best team on it was #56 South Dakota State. They got by the Bison, lost to Dayton in their preseason tourney championship game, and scraped by Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. Thus concludes their nonconference games against Kenpom top 100 opponents.
When they hit the Big Ten they suffered four consecutive losses to start things and never really recovered. Their sole quality win was 77-74 at Indiana, which is pretty impressive. But all other Big Ten wins came against Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, and Nebraska.
Conference four factors:
|Factor||Offense (Rk)||Defense (Rk)||Avg|
|Effective FG%:||49.2 8||47.4 4||49|
|Turnover %:||21.8 12||18.1 8||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||33.4 3||31.1 10||32.5|
|FTA/FGA:||36.5 6||43.3 11||36.5|
This is the statistical picture of an athletic, unskilled, not-very-smart team. They're great on the offensive boards and it's tough to shoot over them (they're #1 in the conference at blocking shots) but they turn the ball over a ton, allow opponents to crash the boards despite their size, and foul like the dickens.
Other statistical bits of interest include steal percentage, blocks suffered on offense, and three-point shooting. Minnesota is last, 11th, and sixth, respectively. This means that 1) Michigan should have fast break opportunities off of turnovers, 2) Minnesota's shots are often heavily contested, and 3) a lot of the shiny numbers Kenpom shows for Minnesota's three-point shooting are artifacts of a poor nonconference schedule.
Timmah? TIMMAH. We've gotten to the point in the rejuvenation cycle where newspapers are appending narratives to potentially random events:
Left with no other choice, Hardaway eventually came out of his shell and began to look for help.
He spent time with Michigan Director of Athletic Counseling Greg Harden, a man former Wolverine football greats like Desmond Howard and Tom Brady have sworn by.
He began to take a look at the mental part of his game, analyzing it as much as any jump shot or free throw mechanic.
Is that why he's been playing better? God, I hope so. The alternative is that Hardaway is just experiencing a random fluctuation to the good and should revert to an established level of play just in time for that to suck hard. I don't know which is the case. Not enough data, so we make big.
Hardaway did add 13 points on nine shots against Penn State and is now hitting around 43% over his last seven games. This is getting pretty trend-y. His turnover rate is going up, which is fine to a certain extent but not so much when those turnovers are coming on dribbles he puts off his foot.
Smotryczah? Maybe. Michigan's other mercurial outside shooting talent also came to life against Penn State. That one basket Smotrycz had where he drove to the short corner and calmly pulled up for a jumper caused hearts to flutter. Can he build on that performance against a team that is not completely horrible on defense?
Don't let anyone taller than 6'4" have an easy basket. Williams, Eliason, Osenieks, and sub Andre Ingram are all are very bad free throw shooters. If they're in position for a dunk or layup, just foul them.
Convert on fast break opportunities. There will probably be a bunch of them; too often this year we've seen a Hardaway or Smotrycz rumble up the court and get the ball poked away.
Don't let anyone shorter than 6'7" take an uncontested three. Welch is at 43%, Hollins 39%, other Hollins 37%. I know these are inflated numbers but if that's a representation of what they do when half their games give them a lot of open threes because the opponents are bad, that's still not something Michigan wants to deal with. The only player on Minnesota who is a plus shooter from inside the line is Williams. Anyone else taking a two-point jumper is a win for Michigan.
Eliason foul watch. He's it as far as centers go for Minnesota and he picks up a ton of fouls. If he's out Michigan's path eases. This won't be a Shurna situation. No one who's playing the false five is a shooting threat and Morgan can just sag into the lane if Minnesota tries to play games with a small lineup.
This can also be reversed, of course: Morgan/Smotrycz foul watch in effect. They've been less spastic than Eliason over the course of the season and there are two of them, so it's less of an issue for Michigan, especially given Eliason's apparent lack of post touches.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by four.