We hate Minnesota, but does that mean we can beat Minnesota?
Iowa (14-7, 3-5) at Minnesota (16-5, 4-4)
Date: February 3, 2013
Time: 12:06 p.m. CT
Location: Williams Arena, St. Paul
Line: Minnesota -9.5
Minnesota is an enigma. The Gophers are the nation's top offensive rebounding team, yet allow opponents to retrieve a third of their misses. They are extremely careless with the basketball, giving up steals at an absurdly high rate. They stomped Florida State and USC on the road in non-conference and took out Michigan State and Illinois in Big Ten play -- their victory in Champaign is arguably the conference's best road win -- and then lost at Northwestern and Wisconsin. Making heads or tails of Minnesota's season or style is practically impossible.
Minnesota goes at least ten-deep in their rotation. Sophomore guard Andre Hollins is averaging 14.1 points and 3.5 assists per game. The unrelated Austin Hollins adds 10.9 points and 2.9 assists. Senior forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe control the middle for the Gophers, and Mbakwe is back to doing Mbakwe things: 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per contest. Until Michigan beat them by eight points a couple of weeks ago, the Gophers had been pummeling opponents at Williams. Nobody -- not Michigan State, not likely Summit League champion North Dakota State, not Northwestern -- had stayed within 10 of Minnesota on their home court, and Nebraska was eviscerated by them on Tuesday night.
The Gophers have played the nation's toughest schedule to date. Three of their five losses are to teams in the national top five (Michigan, Indiana, Duke). The loss at Wisconsin -- on a night where they only scored 44 points and shot 34.8 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from the line -- was understandable. The loss to Northwestern, though. That one is mystifying. They shot just 33.3 percent from the field, 7/17 from the free throw line. They played 12 guys, but only six for more than seven minutes. Only Mbakwe, who scored 14 and hauled down 16 rebounds, seemed to give a damn. Minnesota did a lot of usual Minnesota things -- they dominated the glass, outrebounding Northwestern 42-23 and grabbing 17 offensive boards, they blocked eight shots, and they turned it over way too often -- but the shooting wasn't there, and one of the nation's most efficient offenses sputtered to a halt.
Can Iowa learn anything from that? They keys to Wisconsin and Northwestern dismantling Minnesota's otherwise solid offense -- slowing the game to a crawl and limiting the effectiveness of the deep Minnesota bench -- aren't the sort of things that Iowa does. Reducing Minnesota's perimeter game to insignificance and making them one-dimensional is more up Iowa's alley, but the Hawkeyes have struggled even when they have successfully shut down an opponent's outside offense. The main methods of beating Minnesota -- either dragging them into the mud or just being really, really good at shooting the basketball -- aren't Iowa's usual methods. Getting into a track meet with a team that starts three guards and goes ten deep isn't necessarily a recipe for success. Iowa needs one of these games if they are to make the tournament, but today's game doesn't look like the one.