January 25, 2008

Minnesota @ Ohio State - Preview

The recent home games against Indiana and Michigan State were big games last week. The Barn filled up and was electric for the first time in a long time. Those games had the potential to be big. But these were almost win-win games for Minnesota (or at least win-neutral). Losing those games but being competitive didn't hurt us. Had we pulled out an upset it obviously would have been huge, but losing doesn't hurt.

Tomorrow's game in Columbus is truly a big game. Win this and you are widely considered a top 5 team in the conference fighting for what will likely be the last Big Ten invitation to the Tourney. Lose this and you are widely considered on a tier below the top 5 teams and you are fighting with Illinois and Iowa for 6th and NIT home games.

Ohio State has been an interesting team this year. A year ago they had an outstanding freshman class that lead them to runner up in the SEC NCAA Tournament. Everyone knows that much of that team left for the NBA and that Thad Motta replaced that class with another top 5 freshman class. Where it gets interesting is that this freshman class is very good but it isn't exactly Oden and Conley so the Buckeyes are fighting to stay on the Tourney Bubble. Doug Lesmerisis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had an interesting column on this earlier in the week.

Ohio State is very talented and this will be a tough road test for the Gophers, but they are not unbeatable.

Match Ups - on paper this is full of bad matchups for the Gophers. At every position the Buckeyes have more athletic and talented players.

PG - Westbrook vs. Jamar Butler - senior PG who is posting career highs in points, assists and rebounds. Butler is also shooting 42% from behind the arc. This is not an ideal match up for the gophers. If Nolen is healthy he has the ability to slow Butler down this advantage goes to Ohio State.

SG - McKenzie vs. David Lighty - one of the unsung freshmen from last season has doubled his minutes this season and is giving the Buckeyes early 10 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Lighty might not carry the scoring load but he is a very good defender and should keep McKenzie to his scoring average or less.

SF - Johnson vs. Evan Turner - based on Tubby's recent switcher-rooing this starter based on match ups, I'm guessing he'll go with Johnson to match the freshman's size and athleticism. Turner is one of two starting freshmen, he is a solid defender and capable scorer. Just last week Turner put forth his career game against Tennessee with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

PF - Coleman vs. Othello Hunter - Hunter is big, strong and athletic. Not a great match up for Coleman, but I'd argue that DC is a better basketball player. He (Coleman) has been very inconsistent this season and he could give an 18 pnt game just as easily as a he could contribute 5 pnts. As usual the team's chances are heavily reliant on Coleman's output.

C - Tollackson vs. Kosta Koufos - Koufos is going to be a lottery pick (this year or next), but he has struggled in conference play especially against teams with solid big men (Illinois' Pruitt, Mich St's interior and UNC's Hansboro for example). Personally I believe that Tollackson will be able to keep Koufos from taking over the game but I also will be shocked if Tollackson gets more than 10 or 12 point himself (especially if they put him on the line).

BENCH - both teams rely on some talented freshmen off their bench. Minnesota's have exceeded expectations while Ohio State's haven't quite lived up to expectations. Jon Diebler is the best example of this. Diebler is the state of Ohio's all time leading scorer and a tremendous shooter. But he has shot only 27% from three and hasn't hit double digits in conference play. He is capable of exploding and that makes me nervous but hopefully The Hoff is the best shooting freshman on the floor tomorrow.


1. Turnovers that lead to points - OSU is at or near the top of the league in FG% defense. Minnesota needs to shoot well to win but that may only come from creating turnovers and scoring in transition. Fortunately the Buckeyes don't take great care of the ball and we turn teams over better than anybody (especially if Nolen plays).

2. Control the boards - neither team is a great rebounding team. OSU has outrebounded only 2 Big Ten teams (Iowa and NW) while Minnesota has controlled the glass only once (NW) in their five games. Who will control the boards tomorrow? That might be a coin flip. If Minnesota can box out and get a few extra possessions on offensive boards that will go a long way towards stealing a road win.

3. Free Throws - we need to get to the line and actually make them. OSU is #1 in the nation in keeping opponents off of the line. We need to draw some fouls and make the throws that they call free.


Based on the individual talent on the floor this one should get ugly. But the Buckeyes have been inconsistent (individually and as a team) and the Gophers have played better as a team. They play very good team defense while Minnesota relies on pressure to cause turnovers. But when the pressure is broken I'm afraid Ohio State will find scoring rather easy.

I really do like our chances but my gut tells me Ohio State has a hot shooting 2nd half after a sloppy 1st and win going away.

Minnesota - 61
Ohio State - 70

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