On Sunday at 1:00 ET, the 24th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers (21-7, 8-7) face a tough road test against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-11, 5-10) on ESPN.
As always, Jerod, Ryan, and Andy will be here with another episode of The Assembly Call as soon as the game ends with instant analysis and fan reaction.
- Date: Sunday, February 26th
- Time: 1:00 ET, 12:00 CT
- TV: ESPN
- Announcers: Dave O’Brien and Dan Dakich
- Point Spread: Minnesota -1
- Over-Under: 137
- KenPom Prediction: Indiana 72-69 with a 59% chance of winning
- Peegs: IU Gameday
- Inside the Hall: What to Expect – Minnesota
- IU-Minnesota live tweet coverage: @AssemblyCall
- Assembly Call IU Postgame Show: http://assemblycall.com/live
The Gophers come in losers of four straight and five of their last six. Three of those defeats came at home, including this week’s loss to Michigan State when Minnesota blew a late lead to lose 66-61. Austin Hollins led the way with 17 points in a losing effort.
Minnesota has struggled to find consistency on the offensive end, particularly after losing Trevor Mbakwe to a knee injury in non-conference play. The Gophers rank ninth in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play and have been held to 1.02 points per possession or less in nine of their 15 conference games. However, it’s worth noting that one of their most efficient offensive performances came in the first meeting between these two teams.
Due to the lack of a true point guard, Minnesota ranks last in the league in turnover rate, so it will be important for IU to consistently apply pressure on defense. The Gophers are in the middle of the pack in most other offensive categories, including offensive rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage, and free throw rate. They grabbed 16 offensive rebounds in the first meeting, which makes Indiana’s work on the defensive glass a key to the game.
Without Mbakwe, the Gophers have taken more of a committee approach offensively. They have seven players averaging between 5.6 and 11.0 points, led by Rodney Williams (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 56.2 FG%). He’s an explosive athlete who has 56 points in the last four contests, and he should be a challenging matchup for Christian Watford.
Ralph Sampson III joins Williams in the frontcourt, but foul trouble has hindered him frequently over the last month and a half. His shooting has improved this year, but his scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking have all dropped off of last year’s pace.
The key backcourt players are Julian Welch and Austin Hollins. Welch scores 10.5 points per game and leads the team with 3.2 assists. He’s been turnover prone at times, but he shoots at a 43.8 clip from beyond the arc. Hollins has shown flashes, but consistency has been an issue. However, he scored a season-high 18 points against the Hoosiers in Bloomington, so IU should be well aware of his capabilities.
Minnesota ranks fifth in defensive efficiency during league play. They are fourth in effective field goal percentage defense, thanks in part to the top-ranked block percentage in the conference. However, the Gophers are in the bottom half of the league in the other three factors on KenPom. They rank 10th in defensive rebounding percentage and 11th in opponents’ free throw rate, which are both areas where the Hoosiers have excelled in Big Ten play.
Minnesota’s last four league foes have scored at least 1.10 ppp, which is something opponents did just three times in their first 11 conference games.
The Hoosiers beat North Carolina Central by 19 points earlier his week in a rare mid-season non-conference game. Cody Zeller led the way with 17 points and seven boards, including four of IU’s 15 offensive rebounds. Victor Oladipo had another strong game with 16 points and six boards (five offensive), while Will Sheehey made the most of his starting opportunity with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds.
The biggest concern after the NC Central game has to be the continued struggles of Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. Hulls was 2-of-3 from the field for five points, but he made three turnovers and now has just seven points to go with seven turnovers in his last three contests. It will be important for him to protect the ball and provide a stabilizing influence in a tough road environment.
Watford scored two points and missed all eight of his shots from the field. He has now been held without a field goal in the last two games and three of the last five. Even if his shot isn’t falling, he needs to remain aggressive defensively as well as on the glass, both of which will be key against Minnesota.
Based on Crean’s lineup patterns this year, it seems likely that Sheehey will start again, and many fans have been clamoring for he and Oladipo to be on the floor at the same time more often. Ryan Corraza of Inside the Hall did a nice job of chronicling Sheehey’s first few baskets against NC Central, and he continues to be most effective when attacking the rim or shooting mid-range jumpers.
While Hulls and Watford have struggled, Zeller and Oladipo have flourished in recent games. Over the last seven contests, Zeller is averaging 18.6 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 57 free throws. In the last six, Oladipo is scoring 16.8 points and grabbing 5.8 boards, and his aggressiveness has been rewarded with 43 free throw attempts over that span.
Indiana’s bench has continued to contribute as well, with Derek Elston and Verdell Jones combining for 19 points against NC Central. Matt Roth knocked down a pair of three-pointers in the first game against Minnesota, so expect a number of reserves to play a key role in the outcome of this game.
Offensively, the biggest focus for IU will be limiting turnovers. They had a 23.9 turnover rate against Minnesota in the first meeting and have been careless with the ball over their last two contests. Otherwise, the Hoosiers match up well and should be able to put points on the board.
On the defensive end, the keys will be limiting offensive rebounds and defending three-point shooters like Welch and Andre Hollins. As mentioned earlier, the Gophers killed IU on the glass in the first meeting, and a flurry of first half three-pointers in that game got Minnesota off to a hot start.
Williams Arena has been a house of horrors for the Hoosiers, who have won there just once in the past seven seasons. Throw in IU’s general road woes in recent years, and this will not be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination. The Gophers probably don’t enter this game with a ton of confidence based on their recent play, so the Hoosiers need to jump on them early, which they failed to do in the first meeting.
IU still has an outside shot at earning the four seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament, but they need to win out to and hope for some help to get it. The stretch run starts Sunday for the Hoosiers, and if they can limit turnovers, clean the defensive glass, and stay aggressive offensively, a key road victory is within reach.