What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: GoAUpher at The Daily Gopher, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Minnesota.
1) Congrats on the big win over Ohio State on Thursday night. What went right in that game that hadn't been going right in some of the games the Gophers lost earlier this year? It looks like Minnesota shot 21% (3/14) from 3-point range, shot fewer free throws than Ohio State, and had 18 turnovers... yet you guys won by 10 points. What was the secret to success there?
Rebounding and shot selection. While the Gophers were ice cold from outside they arc, they didn't fall into their normal trap of relying on the 3-ball too much. Additionally, they had an overall FG% of 51% and a eFG% of 54.4% (which is pretty impressive given how cold they were from deep). The Gophers also dominated the glass after allowing Ohio State some early offensive boards. Minnesota finished with a OReb% of 40.7%, which is the sort of numbers we haven't seen since last year's team. It's not my preferred recipe (WAY too many turnovers, so many unforced) but it was the right one for Thursday.
2) Austin Hollins was supposed to be Andre Hollins' primary sidekick on this Gopher team, but aside from an 18-point game against Purdue, he's been pretty miserable in B1G play. In the other four B1G games, he's 6/26, including 1/15 form long range. What's the story behind his struggles? Is it just an ugly slump, or is there something more to it? How much does Minnesota need him to get back to normal?
I don't think anyone knows what is up with Austin. He's gone through slumps in other seasons and often struggled on the road in the past, but nothing quite like this. I could play armchair psychologist but the truth is that I'd be full of it.
He still plays good defense and tends to help the team in other ways, but his lack of production from the field has been frustrating. Especially since this team needs him to produce in order to help assure them a better chance at winning. If Austin comes out of his shell, it would go a long way to helping Minnesota become an NCAA worthy team.
3) What the heck has gotten into Elliott Eliason lately? He's had double digit rebounds in four of his last five games and double digit points in three of those five, including a season-high 12 points against Ohio State. Has the proverbial light turned on for Eliason or is this run just an aberration?
Elliott is definitely one of the guys who has seemingly benefited from the most from the change of systems under Richard Pitino. He's playing with more confidence on the offensive end and more importantly, he's cut down on the number of silly fouls he usually takes. That means he's proving to be even more effective as a defender and rebounder. I'd have to say EE's strides this season are one of my favorite changes on this year's team.
4) The season's about half-over now; how has year one of the Richard Pitino Era gone overall? Has it exceeded your expectations? Met them? What would be a good overall outcome for the season?
I went into the season with essentially no official expectations. I really wasn't sure how the new system would "take" in year one, so I made a decision to enjoy the ride. Most fans were probably looking for an NIT berth and the team to be competitive more often than not. A common refrain before the season (and even now) is that this looks like a team that has the ability to steal wins from better teams or cough up losses to worse teams. Which means we're in for a heck of a ride.
A good outcome would be an NIT berth following a trip to the NCAA bubble. An NCAA berth is in the realm of reasonable expectation right now, but it's not a "dance or the season is a letdown" situation in Minneapolis. Making the tourney would be great though and the win over OSU certainly has people thinking a little more about it.
5) What are a 1-2 things that Minnesota must do in Sunday's game to in order to pull off the upset in Iowa City?
Protect the ball and rebound. If the Gophers don't turn the ball over and keep Iowa from taking a big advantage on the glass (especially if they eliminate 2nd chance points off offensive boards) then they should be in position to force another upset. It's not the only formula for victory, but turning the ball over and getting worked on the boards is typically a formula for losses for this Gopher team.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I'd love to see the Gophers beat ranked teams back to back and a road win over they Hawkeyes would be another huge boost to Minnesota's NCAA hopes, but I don't see it happening. Iowa is a good team and I don't think the Gophers are consistent enough to expect a victory. I definitely think it's possible and a MN win wouldn't shock me, but I would still be pleasantly surprised. Make me pleasantly surprised Minnesota.
Thanks for being a good sport, although I still hope your team loses by 50 today. You can check out GoAUpher and the rest of the TDG crew at The Daily Gopher. You can also follow GoAUpher on Twitter at @GoAUpher and TDG at @TheDailyGopher. The Iowa-Minnesota game is in Iowa City, IA on Sunday, January 19, and is scheduled to start at 12:00 pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.