Gopher hoops: Tense bubble watch
Tire the 'Cats
Despite the Gophers complete faceplant loss Saturday against Michigan, the vast wealth of national web prognostications still have the Maroon & Gold going to the Big Dance (see links below). Of course - and much like the NCAA Selection Committee - there is no shortage of number-crunching employed to make such predictions. But the Committee is well-known to employ some gut in their final at-large selections as well.
A Gopher loss in this first round of the Big Ten Tournament against Northwestern on Thursday morning would give Minnesota its third loss in its last four, surely souring that collective Committee gut. And a win?
A win would give the Gophers 22 victories and should get them into the NCAA, even if they lose their second round matchup Friday morning against Big Ten champs Michigan State. Last week, we visited the recent history of Big Ten clubs making the Big Dance. Today, let's look closer at this Northwestern game.
The Gophers and the Wildcats spilt their two games this year, with the G-Men crushing the flu-ridden 'Cats 72-45 on 2/22. Northwestern has some fine road wins on their resume against both Purdue and Michigan State this season, but the rub is that they can't rebound for shit (28.2 per, last in Big Ten), and truly rely on three dudes - Kevin Coble, Michael Thompson and Craig Moore - for 62 percent of their 64 points per game.
When Coble usurps his 15.3 points per (4th best in Big Ten) this season, the 'Cats are a sound 9-4. Rifleman senior Moore made a Big Ten-best 103 three's this season, bust also chucked up a conference best 246 triples. Northwestern is 9-5 when Moore makes four or more three pointers. Point guard Thompson sports a sound 2.2 assist/turnover ratio, good for 7th best in the Big Ten and 49th nationally.
Northwestern has never made the NCAA's and the Big Ten tourney has been equally unkind to the 'Cats since its inception in 1998. Northwestern is 4-11 all-time in the tourney (1-4 when played in Indy). The Gophers, meanwhile, are a slightly more sanguine 8-11, although they do own a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the 'Cats in said environs.
The Gophers have double-digit turnovers in all but one of their 30 games this year (they had 9 against Eastern Washington back on 11/26/08). They are second worst in the Conference in that category, giving it up nearly 15 times a game. When that total is below 15 this season, the G-Men are an impressive 8-1.
To reach a second-season that followers will embrace, Minnesota needs to clamp down hard on one of Northwestern's Big Three, keep turnovers below that teens mark, and dominate the glass. We average nearly seven more boards per game than Northwestern - this could prove a nice national stage for Lil' Ralphy Sampson to go double-double style and lead Minnesota to our first NCAA since 2004-'05.
(but check out the 'Deserved In' poll)