Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Minnesota (Re)Preview

Deja Vu All Over Again

Well. Here we are again. Michigan on a minor losing streak. Minnesota on the horizon. A must win game. Someone's still hurt. Yada yada yada...

Stop me if you've heard it all before.

Depending on who you read, Michigan is either On the Bubble or a loss away from being bubble fodder. Regardless of whether you're reading the glass as half full or half empty columns, they all have the same ending: Michigan has to win on Thursday.

Thankfully when there was a must win game, and Minnesota is on the calendar, Michigan has taken care of business. Michigan posted a 71-55 win at Minnesota on January 21, and on February 15 thumped the Gophers again 72-50 in Ann Arbor despite missing Abram, Harris, and Smith. Both games were significant for different reasons. The January 21 game stands out because it robbed us of Lester Abram for the majority of the season. The February 15 meeting is important because it stopped the bleeding after a three game losing streak.

So, on Thursday, Michigan faces another crucial against a team it has thoroughly dominated this season. The key, this time, won't be Daniel Horton. He's scored 32 and 21 against the Gophers. We know what he will do on Thursday.

The key is the rest of the Michigan team. For Michigan to have any chance of not only a long tournament run, but simply pulling out a win, someone else has to step up. The question is, who's it gonna be?

Courtney Sims, after a small streak of consistent aggressive games, disappeared against Indiana. Though I've been burned by him in the past, he scored in double figures the previous three games, I'll wager a quarter he scores more than the one point he had against Indiana. The next candidate is Dion Harris. Long shot at best. His ankle is still bothering him, that's the only way I can explain it. (Otherwise his shooting 5-29 shooting over the past four games means he suddenly has developed walleye vision, glaucoma, or jumpshotophobia). Brown, while beginning to score, has been a turnover factory on the offensive side of the ball (13 in the last four games). He's good for 4 points and 9 rebounds. Coleman and Petway? We'll see. They've had decent performances that last few games, but nothing to write home about. However, Coleman did score 13 last time these teams played so he could be a wildcard. Finally there is the question of Lester Abram. Everyone is saying he'll play. I'll believe it when I see him on the floor careening out of control towards the basket. Only then will I believe it.

While there are questions, Michigan has stacked up well against Minnesota. All the question marks I listed above have performed admirably against the Gophers this year (Sims being the exception, having scored only 4 points against them this year). Ron Coleman put in 13 during the last game and the bench contributed 15 points in the victory. The first game, well, that was all Horton.

In their last meeting Michigan limited the Gophers to just 35.7% shooting from the floor and 13% from three. If Michigan allows (insert team name here) to get hot from three, especially in the second half, its gonna be bad news. I don't see that happening though. Judging by Michigan's past performances, Amaker is going to lower the defensive hammer on Minnesota in an attempt to get Michigan ready to play press D against Iowa and in the Tournament. I think you'll see a defensive intensity from Michigan that wasn't quite there against Indiana.

In the grander scheme of things, going into this game Minnesota's got nothing to lose. At this point, they're playing for the NIT. Further, this could be the last game ever for Minnesota's best players. Grier, Hargrow, Boone, and Stamper are all seniors. There's plenty of motivation on the Gopher's side, so expect them to play loose and fast early, try to grab a lead and then press the hell out of Michigan.

While that will be their gameplan, I don't expect it to work. Michigan's played well against the Gophers and I don't expect that to change. Horton will be Horton. Harris will snap out of his funk. Brown will grab a ton of boards. Petway will either block a shot into next week or tear down a rim. And the story should remain the same. Deja Vu.

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