BASKETBALL PREVIEW: #5 Michigan at #9 Minnesota

Game: #5 Michigan (16-1, 3-1) at #9 Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) Thursday 1/17,
ESPN 7 PM

Vegas: Minnesota (-3)

Opponent Analysis: Wow, Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing well this year. They rebound well, leading the conference in offensive rebounds per game. PG Andre Hollins is having a monster year, leading the team in scoring and assists. Though he only averages 14.4 points per game on the season, he scored at least 22 against MSU, Indiana, and Illinois. Trevor Mbakwe, who turns 24 next week, is averaging nearly a double-double. Minnesota has been extremely impressive in Big Ten play, blowing out a ranked Illinois team on the road, giving Indiana all they can handle in Bloomington, and beating MSU by double digits in a home game. Minnesota can make a strong case for best team in the conference, especially with a win tonight.

Here are my three keys to the game:

1) Trey Burke must do Trey Burke things – Last year in the Big Ten Tournament, Trey Burke wowed the Indianapolis crowd with 30 points, as Michigan beat Minnesota 73-69 in overtime. Hollins has not proven he can defend Burke in the past, so Michigan must exploit this matchup. If Minnesota starts giving extra attention to #3, Trey must distribute the ball well to open guys, and get them easy buckets.

2) Mental Toughness – When traveling to places like the Breslin Center, Assembly Hall, and Williams Arena, this young Michigan team needs to take their mental toughness to another level. Calls won’t always go their way, the crowd will be loud, and it will be very intense. The game at Ohio State was an example of how Michigan was not yet ready to win on the road against better teams. It took too long for Michigan to weather OSU’s early run, and then when the game was close at the end, Michigan went into panic mode and jacked up ill-advised shots, instead of maintaining the offensive flow that got them back into the game. These things just can’t happen if Michigan wants to win tonight. However, there is a learning opportunity for Michigan to grasp from all of that.

3) Rebounding, Rebounding, Rebounding – Minnesota is a tough enough team to beat on their own. It gets even tougher when they create additional opportunities on the offensive glass. Morgan, McGary, and Robinson need to work hard to limit Minnesota to one shot per possession. Minnesota currently leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounding, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. In order to do this, Michigan must always get a body on Trevor Mbakwe  and Rodney Williams. Michigan rebounded well against OSU, and this is easily the best rebounding team in the Beilein era, but that must continue against tough competition.

Prediction: This game will be tough. Michigan will play well at times, and be very frustrating to watch at others. I just think Minnesota is playing too well right now, and Michigan has too many guys slumping (Stauskas, Hardaway, Robinson) for Michigan to overcome this tough Minnesota team and the raucous Williams Arena.

Score Prediction: Minnesota 66 Michigan 60

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