Game of the Week: Minnesota vs. No. 16 Michigan
Joe Lunardi has the Minnesota Golden Gophers as his first team out this week. Luckily for Rich Pitino’s squad, they will get a big chance for a marquee win, Saturday, when they face Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The 16th-ranked Wolverines aren’t worried about whether or not they will be dancing come March, but the Gophers will be sweating it out on the cut-line on Selection Sunday.
At 6-10 in the Big Ten, and 17-12 overall, they are the epitome of a bubble team. Minnesota is hanging on by a thread because of its wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State at home, and its top 10 strength of schedule. They have played a murderer’s row Big Ten schedule, facing most of the top teams in the Big Ten on the road. But this is a team that needs wins now, in order to avoid an NIT appearance.
A win over Michigan at the Crisler Center would be huge in the eyes of the selection committee. In order to pull off the road upset, a lot of things would have to go Minnesota’s way.
First, junior Maurice Walker needs to keep rebounding the ball. Over the last nine games, Walker is leading the team in boards, and has been a physical presence down low, that Minnesota needs in conjunction with its above average guard play.
In their last relevant victory, (a win at Northwestern doesn’t do much for their tournament hopes) DeAndre Mathieu made the game-clinching layup. Against Northwestern, he dropped 18 points, and has been leading the team in scoring over the past few weeks. Mathieu also leads the team in assists. He needs to remain hot, and needs to continue to hit threes (shooting 45% from downtown) in order for the Gophers to keep in close in Ann Arbor.
In addition, Minnesota will need to contain Michigan’s stars. Mitch McGary is out and may not return at all this season, but Pitino’s club must still contain Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, who are two of the premier sophomores in the country. Stauskas is dropping 17 points per game, while Robinson III is a force down low, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game.
Stauskas scored 25 in the huge win over Michigan State last Sunday, and the Wolverines are a frontrunner to win the conference. They are in play for a four-seed or better in the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota may not have an answer down low when battling Robinson. However, the guard play is both talented on both teams, and there will likely be a lot of scoring.
In his first season at the helm of Minnesota’s basketball program, Pitino has done a nice job of keeping the team afloat and in contention for an at-large bid. A win over the Wolverines would be a signature win, and would likely propel the Gophers to a tournament bid, if they close out the season with a few more wins over less talented squads.
Mike Gilbert is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email Michael.GilbertPSU@gmail.com.