A Terrific Tip-Off
You couldn’t have asked for a better game to start the conference season than Illinois’ 71-67 overtime win over Purdue tonight (in roughly a 76-possession game). This was an extremely hard fought game that went back and forth throughout, featured multiple moments of drama late in the game, and provided 5 minutes of bonus competition to boot.
At times, the Illinois guards looked completely overmatched against Purdue’s quicker guards, finding it difficult to just get into their half-court offense. Nevertheless, the Illini turned it over just 6 times and found enough ways to manufacture shots to stay in the game. Illinois shot 29-61 on 2-point attempts (47.5%). That was (just) enough in a game like this one. Big men Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis were the difference makers, converting 14 of the 29 shots they took.
Purdue, meanwhile, fell prey to what I had prognosticated earlier today:
The key for Purdue will be finding enough scoring to not drop a few games played in the 50s.
This game was tied at 56 at the end of regulation, and Purdue did indeed struggle to find scoring, putting up an abysmal shooting line of .426/.250/.556. The 12 missed free throws, in particular, came back to haunt the Boilermakers.
Purdue’s point guard situation remains an issue. Lewis Jackson and Keaton Grant combined for just 19 points on 22 FG attempts and 4 assists in 65 total minutes of play.
If the Big Ten title race is, in fact, a two-team race, then Purdue dropped an early service game to MSU tonight. But there are miles to go before we sleep. And our first mile may prove just as challenging as Purdue’s did for them . . .
Minnesota Game Preview
Wednesday at noon. Williams Arena, Minneapolis. BTN.
We’ll keep this one short as (1) I’m still in stat-analysis overload from the Big Ten preview post and (2) there are only 14 hours remaining before this game tips off.
Minnesota comes into Big Ten play with a perfect 12-0 record. That record’s been racked up against fairly spotty competition, though. Their signature win was a 70-64 defeat of Louisville in a game played in Arizona. Outside of that game, the Gophers have not played another top-75 opponents (as judged by Kenpom).
The strength of the team has been on offense, where Minnesota ranks 27th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. They’ve been particularly efficient in converting two-point shots, with forwards Damian Johnson, Colton Iverson, and Jamal Abu-Shamala all making more than 60% of their two-point attempts.
Junior guard Lawrence Westbrook leads the Gophers in scoring with 13.0 points/game, shooting 36.4% from 3-point range. Blake Hoffarber, he of the multiple ESPY-quality buzzer-beaters, has been extremely efficient in scoring 10.5 points/game: .556/.462/.750. And point guard Al Nolen’s been efficient distributing the ball, averaging 6.3 assists vs. just 1.5 turnovers per game.
Minnesota has been shakier on defense, but does excel at two things: blocking shots and stealing the ball. Johnson, Iverson, and 6’1″ freshman Ralph Sampson III all sport block percentages above 10.0%. And Nolen and Johnson have both posted steal percentages of 4.7%. The Gophers’ defensive weakness has been rebounding; they’ve allowed opponents to pull down 36.6% of missed shots.
As I mentioned in the conference season preview, the Gophers are extremely balanced. Nolen is the only player playing more than 57% of the team’s minutes, while 11 players have played at least 20% of the available minutes. MSU won’t be able to wear Minnesota down with its depth. They’ll need to play intelligently for 40 minutes to avoid turning the ball over and taking bad shots against a team that looks to take advantage of those mistakes.
At 6’7″ and 195 pounds, Damian Johnson could be a tough match-up for Raymar Morgan when MSU has the ball. With Delvon Roe presumably out, It’ll be interesting to see if Izzo sticks with the bigger lineup to get Morgan matched up with a smaller player. That strategy could have added benefits in terms of creating offensive rebounding opportunities. Once again, Marquise Gray looks to be a key figure, filling in for an injured frontcourt starter.
Kenpom predicts a 75-72 Gopher win in a 69-possession game. Time to start telling those statistics to shut up.