Thursday Night Links
- Cheap, Easy, and Obsolete
“I really have no basis for this, but remembering past seasons when Michigan St. would shock everyone with a 1 seed with 7 losses, I can definitely still see a scenario where the Spartans earn a top overall seed. If the Spartans can win the Big Ten regular season and conference title they will have a boatload of quality wins. Of course Purdue will have something to say about that before all is said and done.”
- Fire Ed Hightower
- Golden Nugz for 2.3.09
Daily Gopher thinks we may be feeling sorry for ourselves.
Minnesota Game Preview
8:30 Wednesday. The Breslin Center. Big Ten Network.
MSU opened the conference season by beating Minnesota by 14 points in Minneapolis. Since then, the Gophers have won 6 of 8 games. Their best win was an overtime win in Madison; the two losses were to Northwestern (on the road) and Purdue (at home). They’re coming off a very impressive 59-36 home win against the Illini last Thursday.
Minnesota’s nonconference tempo-free numbers indicated the team would be of the good offense/bad defense variety. In conference play, though, they’ve been the third best defensive team in the conference, while playing at a league-average level offensively.
The Gophers’ defensive strengths are two-fold:
- They’re holding conference opponents to a shooting percentage of 42.4% on 2-point attempts. For the season, Minnesota leads the entire country in block percentage. 6’11” Ralph Sampson, 6’10” Colt Iverson, and 6’7″ Damian Johnson all have block percentages above 9.0%.
- They’re forcing conference opponents to turn the ball over on 23.0% of possessions (2nd best in the conference). Four Gopher players are averaging at least one steal per game in conference play, led by Al Nolen with 2.0/game.
Given the Gophers’ shot-blocking prowess, Raymar Morgan’s absence may hurt less than it would against other opponents. The burden will be on the Spartan guards to take care of the ball and knock down perimeter shots. In the first match-up, Kalin Lucas scored 24 points. We may need a repeat performance from him. Durrell Summers knocking down a few more 3-pointers over the smaller Gopher guards would help, too.
The good news is that Minnesota is fairly vulnerable on the defensive glass. They’re allowing opponents to rebound 36.2% of missed shots. Of course, if Morgan can’t play and Goran Suton is limited, we may not be quite as formidable on the offensive glass as we have been in the first half of conference play. Delvon Roe and Marquise Gray need to help generate some second chance points.
Offensively, Minnesota is led by junior guard Lawrence Westbrook. At 15.0 points/game, Westbrook is the only Gopher averaging double-digit points in conference play, during which he’s posted a stellar 53.7/44.1/88.9 shooting line.
Overall, though, the team has a shooting line of just 47.5/33.1/70.4 in conference games. Of particular note is Espy hall-0f-famer Blake Hoffarber, who appears to have completely misplaced his shooting stroke, having made only 6 of 34 three-point attempts (17.6%) in Big Ten play.
While Minnesota has been below average on the defensive glass, they actually rank as the second best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten–the only team in the conference within 10 percentage points of MSU’s offensive rebounding percentage (47.4% for us, 37.5% for them).
Eleven Gophers players are playing at least 8 minutes per game in conference play. This is a tough, deep team. To snap the current home losing streak (a phrase unspoken in East Lansing in a decade), our Spartans will simply need to play solid man-to-man defense, force tough shots, and grab defensive rebounds. Travis Walton will be assigned to guard Westbrook; everyone else simply needs to prevent easy baskets and force the Gophers to try to beat them one on one. (This is “simple” in theory, at least.)
A win tomorrow night would be a huge boost to team morale. With a home game against Indiana on Saturday, we’d be looking at a 9-2 record going into next Tuesday’s game in Ann Arbor, at which time Morgan and Suton will both hopefully be at (or near) full strength.
Kenpom predicts a 73-66 MSU win in a 67-possession game.
P.S. Look at that, we’re in first place all alone again.
P.P.S. I’d like to go ahead and officially state for the record that, as good as Goran Suton has been in conference play, I should put Evan Turner on the Midseason All-Conference Team in his place. 26 points on 15 FGA, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists for Turner tonight. Meanwhile, JuJuan Johnson (a guy I did put on the all-conference squad) almost singlehandedly kept Purdue in the game in Robbie Hummel’s absence, scoring 30 points on 16 FGA.