Indiana is about to face it's biggest test of the season with No. 8 Minnesota comes to Bloomington. The Hoosiers, 14-1 (2-0), finally get to return home but this Minnesota team is no joke and quite deserving of the ranking they have obtained.
The Golden Gophers are 15-1 with their lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Duke during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They are also undefeated in Big Ten play with convincing wins against No. 18 Michigan State, No. 12 Illinois, and Northwestern.
IU hasn't had too many quality opponents this season and have rarely been tested. Minnesota will change that tomorrow. The Hoosiers are going to have to win all their games at home during Big Ten play if they are still trying to win a conference title. However if Minnesota were to win, it would rank as its best victory of the season.
Minnesota handed IU its lone home loss last season in the past 29 games at Assembly Hall. The Gophers fended off a furious rally by IU to win 77-74. The Hoosiers got their revenge by trouncing Minnesota 69-50. But this is a much improved team over last season.
IU has fallen in the Pomeroy Ratings to third. The two Big Ten road games have taken its toll on the former top rated offense and dropped it to seventh. IU has been struggling a bit against better opponents but the team is still trying to find it's stride.
Minnesota is currently ranked eighth in Pomeroy with the tenth best offense and 14th defense. They have a knack for getting offensive boards and get a second chance with the ball on nearly 50 percent of their possessions. They also seem to get to the line on every other field goal attempt.
Defensively, the Gophers have been holding their opponents to under 30 percent shooting from the three point line and about 42 percent from the rest of the field. They are also exceptional at forcing turnovers with opponents giving up the ball nearly 24 times per game.
Cody Zeller vs Trevor Mbakwe. Zeller will have his hands full with Mbakwe. Mbakewe is back after tearing his ACL and is setting the tone for this Gophers team with his toughness. He is averaging just nine points per game but is also snagging about eight rebounds a game. Zeller has been pushed around before this season by players who simply wanted it more (Butler's Andrew Smith). The big advantage that Zeller will have is that Mbakwe is 6-8 and the tallest starter for Minnesota. Zeller should be able to use his size to out rebound Mbakwe and should be able to shoot over him on offense.
Victor Oladipo vs Andre Hollins. Hollins is averaging nearly 14 points per game and connecting on 43 percent of his three point attempts. He leads Minnesota in scoring and has the potential to go off for 30 points in any given night (or mid-day in this case). Its more than likely that Oladipo will be guarding him, and if that is the case, then his average will probably drop after the game as Oladipo will shut him down. However, due to his size (6-1) he could draw Yogi Ferrell, who is also a solid defender. In addition, this is the type of game that Oladipo seems to show up big for. He loves the big stage and will be looking to make a huge impact on the game.
Good Christian Watford vs Bad Christian Watford. Which one will IU get? He was very aggressive last week against Penn State, much to the delight of the fans. If that sort of play continues, he could be be looking at an NBA contract.
IU needs to push the tempo on Saturday. They want to run Minnesota off the court. The fast pace favors Oladipo and Zeller, in addition to opening up the Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls from three. This also gets the crowd going which might be a bit unnerving to the Gophers who are naturally afraid of loud noises and will scurry back to their tunnels.
Minnesota will want turn this into a half-court slugfest. They want to outwork the Hoosiers and slow down the tempo. It's easier said than done. They have been a very impressive team this season, but IU at home is no easy task.
IU will win a close game and prove they are at the top of the Big Ten.
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