The Conference season is winding down with only five Games left for each of these teams. Michigan is fighting for the Big Ten title with a home Game against Michigan State following this trip, while Minnesota is fighting to make the NCAA Tournament with two huge chances to get wins at home against Michigan and Purdue.
The first time these teams met about a month ago, it was surprisingly close in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines were losing at halftime, but then were ahead by 10 points with five minutes to go until the Golden Gophers made a run of their own before losing 59-57 via a buzzer-beater. It was that close because neither offense could get anything going with Ignas Brazdeikis and Jon Teske combining for 33 points and no one else above seven for Michigan. It was a little more balanced for Minnesota, but even though it shot slightly better and won the rebound battle, it still had 16 turnovers, 10 more than Michigan. That’s the one stat the Gophers can’t replicate if they want to win this Game. Still, it’s a wonder if their defense can match that performance because they rank 13th in the Big Ten in terms of efficiency, giving up a lot of easy buckets inside the arc.
There are couple differences between this meeting and the last. Charles Matthews managed just seven points in the first Game, but has turned it up, averaging more than 16 points per Game in the last Four. His revived play has been a big help to a struggling offense, especially since he’s efficient, going 24-for-38 from the field in the last three. The problem is that Minnesota has the rare roster that can defend the size of Matthews at the three spot with Amir Coffey, who also struggled offensively in that first Game with 11 points. If those guys cancel each other out again, it will be up to the rest of the team and it’s hard to see Teske repeating his 15-point performance since he hasn’t hit double digits in five of the last six Games.
The other part is that Minnesota freshman Daniel Oturu was dealing with a shoulder injury and only played 10 minutes in the first matchup. His presence could be a huge boost since he’s scored at least 11 points in five of the last six Games with the lone down effort being because of foul trouble against Indiana last time out. Teske has already had trouble with better bigs in the Conference and Oturu could be another issue. The other matchup to focus on is between Jordan Murphy and Brazdeikis at the Four spot. It was mostly a foul fest in the first meeting with nine of Brazdeikis’s 18 points coming from the foul line. Brazdeikis outscored Murphy’s 11 points, but he went just 4-for-18 from the field, including 1-for-7 from deep. Murphy’s experience and athleticism as a big gave Brazdeikis some problems and that could show up again.
The best way to completely stop Michigan is limiting Zavier Simpson and Minnesota did that in the first meeting due to the lengthy backcOurt of Dupree McBrayer and Gabe Kalscheur. Those guys both scored more than Simpson, who managed just six points, three boards and no assists. It was one of the worst performances of the season for Simpson, who averages six assists per Game.
Comparing to last Game, there still isn’t much of a difference between these teams. Teske will drop off, but Simpson and Matthews will pick up the slack. On the other side, Oturu changes everything for the Gophers, especially if he can get Teske into foul trouble early. That being the case, expect another Game that goes down to the final minutes with Minnesota possibly getting the edge at home.
Our Pick – Minnesota +5