Dispatches from Blogfrica: The Daily Gopher Talks Iowa-Minnesota

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa tries to rebound from Saturday's gutting loss to Wisconsin by taking another varmint-themed border rival...

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) The Gophers' offense has really hit the skids over the last few games; they're averaging 49.7 points in their last three games and they've only cracked 37% from the field in one of those games. What's gone wrong? Why can't the Gophers shoot straight?

Honestly, I don't think anyone is totally sure. Andre Hollins definitely looks like he has never gotten back to 100% following his ankle injury during the first Wisconsin game. But as for everyone else? We're into speculating about the always nebulous and undefinable "confidence issues" as a potential cause. Whatever the true reason, the team is not shooting well, and those struggles have extended themselves to the line on many nights. When your clutch 3 point shooter Malik Smith is about 8 for 30,000 in the last 7 games and there isn't an injury problem, then you might be forced to blame witchcraft. Speaking of which, was that Fran I saw on TMZ last night buying 50 vats of goats blood?

2) Tell us a little about Deandre Mathieu -- it seems like he's emerged as the secondary scoring threat to Andre Hollins and a solid assist man. What does he do particularly well? What does Iowa need to do to slow him down?

Lil Dre at his best is a quick and decisive spark in the offense. In several games he's taken over the offense and won the game by finishing in traffic or hitting pull up jumpers from the elbow. He also has the ability to suck in defenders and find the open man on the outside. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, he has not been immune to the team's funk. It seemed like the loss of Dre Hollins may have hurt his penetrate and kick game a little bit. Additionally, he likes to work off of ball screens, which is a tactic that some teams have found ways to neutralize. In my opinion Iowa can do the following to keep him off his game:

- Defend the perimeter on the drives and shut down the kick-out game
- If the refs allow it, defend Lil Dre hard inside and contest shots with contact
- Force him to adjust to a lack of success in the ball screens, make him dump it to a rolling big man, and make the big man beat you

3) Iowa scored 94 points the last time Iowa and Minnesota tangled. What is Minnesota going to do on defense this time to try and slow down the Iowa offense?

Honestly, I'm not sure they can. I'd assume the Gophers will attempt to play zone and they make use some token pressure off made baskets and free throws to burn a little extra clock. But Iowa has the highest tempo offense in the B1G (by a significant margin) and I don't see Minnesota being able to do much to change that unless Iowa plays poorly.

4) After beating Ohio State and Wisconsin last month, Minnesota looked like they were in pretty good shape to grab an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the Gophers have lost six of their last eight games, including home games to Illinois and Northwestern, making their bubble status very shaky indeed. (As of yesterday, Lunardi had them in his First Four Out grouping.) What does Minnesota need to do to earn an at-large berth? Do you think they'll get it done or will they be in the NIT?

I'll give a couple of scenarios:

- Totally safe: Win out or win one game from Iowa or @Michigan plus PSU and 2 games in the B1G tourney. Do that and they're a lock for the NCAA's. This is also a pie in the sky path given how they've played recently.
- Pretty safe: Win one game from Iowa or @Michigan plus PSU and 1 game in the B1G tourney. Unlikely given current play.
- Pretty safe: Beat PSU and win two in the BTT. This is the most likely path to a berth
- Bubble: Beat Iowa or Michigan, win one in the BTT.
- Outside looking in: Pretty much anything else.

Honestly, I don't see a plausible scenario that doesn't have the Gophers needing at least 1 Big Ten Tournament win to remain in contention come Selection Sunday and since I think the PSU game is the only likely win remaining on their schedule that figure is really more like 2 BTT wins. All of this assumes the rest of the Bubble contenders don't shit themselves, though (feel free to do that, everyone!).

5) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?

Iowa wins and Fran manages to leave The Barn without harming an innocent chair.

Thanks for being a good sport, although I still hope your team loses by 50 tonight. 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 Minneapolis, MN on Tuesday, February 25, and is scheduled to start at 6:00 pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.

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