Iowa Hawkeyes (14-3, 3-1) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-4, 3-2)
Date: January 19, 2014
Time: Noon CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Line: Iowa -9.5
After getting a week off to process the Ohio State win, the Hawkeyes return to action Sunday against Minnesota. Tipoff is scheduled for noon on BTN.
Until this week, Minnesota was looking like a paper tiger. The Gophers went 11-2 in non-conference play, but just one win -- a home victory over Florida State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge -- was against a team in the Kenpom top 75. Minnesota lost twice in the Maui Invitational, falling to Syracuse and Arkansas before defeating Chaminade in their final game in Hawaii. It was a better-than-expected start for first-year head coach Richard Pitino, but Minnesota was still widely considered a second-tier Big Ten team, a position confirmed with a three-point home loss to Michigan in their Big Ten opener.
Now? Not so much. The Gophers nearly took out Michigan State in East Lansing, then dominated the second half in a home win over Ohio State Thursday night. The Gophers are now 3-2 in the conference, with games against Iowa and Wisconsin this week. If they are going to make a run at the conference crown, it has to start this week.
Minnesota is an across-the-board solid basketball team. The Gophers shoot at a 51 percent effective rate, rebound fairly well, and shoot at a high percentage from the charity stripe. Though Minnesota is especially dependent on the outside shot -- nearly 40 percent of Minnesota's field goal attempts come from three -- the Gophers aren't great outside shooters. They make just 35.2 percent from behind the arc, near the national average. Minnesota doesn't draw fouls at a particularly high rate, and they are especially suspect to having shots blocked.
Defensively, the Gophers defend the perimeter shot and generate a lot of steals, but are otherwise average. Opponents are posting only a 46.5 percent effective field goal percentage, due in large part to atrocious three-point shooting (30.7 percent) and a decent number of blocked shots. Much like with the Minnesota offense, the Gophers don't have any glaring defensive weaknesses but also don't excel in one particular facet of the game.
Junior guard Andre Hollins and unrelated senior guard Austin Hollins are the Gophers' primary threats. Andre is averaging nearly 16 points and 4 rebounds per game so far, and has scored in double digits in each of Minnesota's five Big Ten games so far. He is not shy about shooting, averaging more than 11 attempts per game with nearly half of them from outside the arc. Austin adds 12 points and more than 6 rebounds per game, though his production has crashed in the league; aside from an 18-point performance against Purdue, the senior is averaging less than 4 points per game in Big Ten play. Diminutive point guard Deandre Mathieu leads the Gophers with 4.4 assists per contest, and is the third double-digit scorer on the Minnesota squad. The 5'9 junior takes the vast majority of his shots in the paint, but manages to make nearly half of his attempts.
Malik Smith, who transferred to Minnesota from Florida International with Pitino and somehow got waived into playing in 2013-14, plays significant minutes off the bench and is the Gophers' most consistent outside threat. While players like Maverick Ahanmisi and Wally Ellenson played in non-conference games, their minutes have been significant reduced since the Big Ten season began.
Little Richard inherited a Tubby Smith lineup, so he has some size at his disposal. Junior center Elliott Eliason stands 6'11 and hauls in almost 9 rebounds per game. Eliason is starting to come into his own as an offensive threat, having scored 9.6 points per game and shooting 65 percent from the field in conference play so far. Latvian forward Oto Oseniecks is playing 22 minutes per game but hasn't posted significant statistics in any category. Sophomore forward Joey King, another transfer that received a waiver to play immediately, and 6'10 forward Maurice Walker round out the Minnesota frontcourt rotation.
Minnesota's not afraid to run -- the Gophers are firmly in the middle of the pack nationally in pace and possession length -- and can score in bunches if given open shots. They have struggled, though, against teams that do what Iowa does: Allow long possessions, capitalize on turnovers and missed shots to start the fast break, and score in transition. The team on Minnesota's schedule to date that most closely mirrors what Iowa does, Arkansas, handily defeated the Gophers in Maui, and Arkansas is nowhere near as efficient as Iowa on offense or defense. With that said, we were reminded Saturday that every team in this league is dangerous. Iowa should win on paper, but if the Ohio State win leads to a lapse of concentration, if the week off leaves the Hawkeyes sluggish, or if Minnesota simply gets hot Sunday afternoon, this game could go south in a hurry.