Iowa Hawkeyes (11-5, 2-1) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-6, 0-4)
Date: January 13, 2015
Time: 8 p.m. CT
Location: Williams Arena, St. Paul
Point spread: Minnesota -3
Kenpom: Minnesota -4
After splitting its penultimate two-game home stand of the season, Iowa travels to Minnesota Tuesday night for an 8:00 p.m. meeting with the Gophers. Television coverage is available on BTN.
After a promising non-conference season that featured wins over some mediocre-at-best opposition -- the Gophers lost to Louisville and St. John's, and their best win is Georgia -- Minnesota has fallen on its face in the Big Ten. The Gophers opened with an embarrassing four-point loss at Purdue, dropped a road game at Maryland, fell in overtime against struggling Ohio State, and collapsed down the stretch against Michigan. With less than nine minutes left to play against the Wolverines, Minnesota was a 92% favorite to win. The Gophers then went seven minutes without a field goal and lost by five. Yes, that should sound familiar.
All of that is to convey three big things: (1) Minnesota has not beaten anyone of consequence this season. Georgia is currently ranked #34 by Kenpom, marginally higher than Iowa, but they too look slightly inflated by a weak schedule. (2) The Gophers are already pretty much dead in the Big Ten, even with a fairly cushy schedule that features Michigan State, Maryland and Michigan just once. (3) This is a giant game for both teams, because they're both looking awfully bubbly at the moment.
Goldy's formula is fairly simple (and fairly predictable to anyone who knows any coach named Pitino): Tough perimeter defense forces turnovers, which allows for easy baskets. Minnesota is third nationally in defensive turnover percentage, forcing a turnover in more than one out of every four opponent possessions. If you had any doubt where those turnovers were coming from, the Gophers are also third in steal percentage. They play at a brisk tempo, particularly on offense, but that number has to be discounted in light of their fast break success.
There's not much else that the Gophers do particularly well, to be honest. They're a fairly good perimeter shooting team, and take a lot of perimeter shots in the halfcourt game. Andre Hollins, who arrived in Minneapolis sometime during the Reagan administration and has not yet left, is knocking down 38 percent from behind the arc. Freshman Nate Mason is an even-better 42 percent from three on fewer attempts, and forwards Carlos Morris and Joey King are not shy from the perimeter, as well. Even Deandre Mathieu, the Gophers' diminutive point guard, is making almost half of his three-point attempts, albeit on just 17 attempts.
The layups and three-point shooting make Minnesota look like a fairly good shooting team, but the numbers are misleading. The Gophers' effective field goal rate in Big Ten games is 10 points lower than it was in the non-conference, a staggering drop when coupled with a markedly slower pace of play. The results: A Gophers team that had scored more than 80 points in its last six non-conference games has yet to break 70 in regulation against a conference opponent.
All of that might not matter at The Barn, where Iowa hasn't won in three years and McCaffery is just 1-3 since joining the Hawkeyes. That track record, coupled with the continuted offensive woes and somewhat-shocking degradation of Iowa's defense in recent weeks, could be enough to see Minnesota through to a win. But Iowa will see its mirror image in many ways Tuesday night, and will likely have to play better than it has in ways that it has not -- specifically, limiting transition offense for a turnover-happy team as it failed to do against Michigan State and Iowa State -- if it is to win.