January 17, 2008

Bring on the Hoosiers and Fear the Barn!

If you read this blog on a regular basis you know that I am often cautiously optimistic. I just couldn't rationally pick the Gophers to win. I am very hopeful and excited, I think we have a legit shot to pull off the upset, but it would be just that. An upset. IU is very good, but as I said (in my poorly written preview) they are not unbeatable.

* IU Blog, Inside the Hall, tries to convince us why an upset is NOT in the making. He says...

Nothing against Minnesota, I think they’re a nice story and a possible NCAA team if they finish fifth or better in the conference, but nothing about their resume screams: “We’re ready to knock off a top 10 opponent.”
I know that Indiana is currently ranked in the top 10, but he throws that out there like we are playing Duke or Kansas. There are a handful of legitimately great teams out there. Indiana is very good, but not great and certainly beatable in the Barn. AP and USA Today polls will tell you that IU is a top 10 team. But more scientific measures of team strength (RPI, KenPom) will tell you that the Hoosiers are not exactly a lock down top 10 team. Of course if we win, I'll point to us beating a "top 10 team" but we'll save that for tomorrow :).
"If you thought IU’s non-conference schedule was weak, Minnesota’s was flat out terrible."
This the pot calling the kettle black here. I'm not defending Minnesota's schedule but by most standards their SOS was slightly higher than IU's.

MN RPI SOS - 182
IU RPI SOS - 195

Other sources have IU's SOS slightly higher than Minnesota's, but the point here is that the difference is minimal and advantage in rankings depends on your formula.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but I like IU’s chances despite their 2-8 record in their last 10 games at Williams Arena. This stat is thrown around a lot, but do you think it means anything to Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford? Wait, I can answer that for you: It means nothing.
In fact it may not mean much to the players mentioned above, but that doesn't mean it won't have an affect on them. The Barn is a very unique place to play and it is a really tough road venue when the place is packed. The Hoosiers' lack of "Barn Experience" may very well play into tonight's game. There is a reason that in the last 10 Barn trips, when the gophers have been very average (read not very good) they have beaten the Hoosiers in 8/10 trips. If the Gophers win it will not be on the Barn alone (playing good D and making some shots might have something to do with it), but it can only help them at this point.

Terry Hutchins covers the Hoosiers for the Indianapolis Star. In today's blog entry he listed the 10 toughest places for the Hoosiers to play over the last 10 years. In the top 4 were the obvious tough road venues like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois (those teams have been kinda decent in the last 10 years). But #2 on his list? Minnesota, where Indiana has gone 2-8 in their last 10 trips to The Barn.

History has shown that they struggle in the Barn, but I don't see them overlooking this year's Gopher squad. They know that Tubby has them playing well and they know that they tend to struggle here. I am fearful that this will fire them up to come out and play great from the start.

In our favor, IU's two best players have played a combined 1 game in the Barn. DJ White is a senior but his only game in Minneapolis was a 65-70 loss in his freshman season. Obviously Eric Gordon has never played here, since he is a freshman. So there really is very little Barn experience on this Hoosier club, any player that is a junior or younger has made exactly 0 trips the Barn thanks to the Big Ten scheduling. This clearly will help the Gophers. A venue that is already a difficult place to play, should hold to form when the opponent hasn't spent a couple years adjusting.

SR - AJ Ratliff - 2 trips to the Barn (Fr and So years)
SR - DJ White - 1 trip (see below)
SR - Lance Stemler - 1 trip to Barn

Rest of Team - 0 trips to the Barn


This is also interesting that the key players in today's game have very little experience with each other.

DJ White over his four year career has played against the Gophers only 3 times. And only once since his freshman season. He has had decent success averaging 16.3 and 5.3 in three games.

Spencer Tollackson in his four year career has played the Hoosiers 4 times but before last season's game he averaged just 11 min per game against Indiana. Spencer's career totals against IU? 14 points, 11 rebounds and 12 fouls in 4 games played.

Lawrence McKenzie is a senior but has actually played IU only once as a Gopher. Last season's road loss he scored 20 points and made 3 from behind the arc.

Dan Coleman actually has the most experience with 4 games (3 of which he played significant min). DC has averaged 14.3 points and 4 rebounds, including a 20 point game last year @Bloomington.

What does all this mean? I think it means that even if the Hoosiers "think" they are ready for the Barn, they may not really be. And based only on last year's game with IU there is potential for Coleman and McKenzie (or another scoring guard) to have a big game.

I think this game is actually bigger for the Hoosiers than it is for the Gophers. A win for Minnesota would be huge, but a lose (unless it is a blowout) won't hurt them much. Indiana is supposed to win this one, they know that they struggle at the Barn traditionally but it isn't a secret and they need to prove they can overcome if they want to be considered a contender (or a tip seed). A loss for them does more damage than a loss for Minnesota.

I know it is really cold outside, but it is time for Gopher fans to TURN UP THE HEAT!

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