What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: GoAUpher from The Daily Gopher, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Minnesota.
1) So... 0-4 to start Big Ten play? What the heck? Has there been any notable trends or patterns in the losses for the Gophers? Three of them were by 5 points or fewer, so it seems like the Gophers have been close to getting that first B1G win.
TDG: Hmmm? What's that? I was too busy watching the men's hockey team dominate. Wait, they're playing terribly right now? Well...um...crap.
Ultimately it comes do to this team showing a maddening inability to close out games. There are multiple reasons you can point to including careless turnovers (many of them completely self inflicted), poor free throw shooting, long offensive droughts where the Gophers take a bunch of bad shots...the list goes on. If this team were playing consistently at the higher level they've shown they're capable of then they'd have 3 easy to semi-easy B1G wins and would have battled Maryland close on the road. Unfortunately that isn't who this team is right now. They're much closer to being a team that had 4 big losses than a team that went 3-1. I'm an optimist, so I'm still hopeful they'll pull it together starting tonight, but until they do Minnesota fans will rightfully regard any future 2nd half leads with dread and suspicion.
2) Minnesota has a very balanced scoring attack -- 3 players are averaging 12+ ppg and 6 are averaging 9+ ppg. Is that by design or are the Gophers lacking a go-to scorer this season?
TDG: Probably more of the latter. The two players Minnesota fans expected to have big years (Andre Hollins and DeAndre Matheiu) have both struggled. It was on and off during the non-conference but it has been much more consistent since the Big Ten season rolled around. Mo Walker has established himself as a go-to threat inside, but the team either struggles to get him the ball or Mo struggles to adjust and find open guys when teams start collapsing and double teaming him.
3) I think Iowa fans probably remember Andre Hollins (it feels like he's been a Gopher forever), but who are some other players that Iowa fans should know about ahead of Tuesday night's game?
TDG: If the Gophers win tonight I'd expect you to get to know DeAndre Mathieu again. When in form, Lil' Dre is the team's sparkplug at the point. Chances are good you guys recall him from last season though. The new face to watch for is freshman Nate Mason. I'd say he's the player Gophers fans are most excited about. He's shooting 45.5% from 3 and is averaging just under 10 points a game. He hasn't had his big breakout game yet so hopefully he's just waiting to go Charles Buggs on the Hawkeyes. (Ed. Note: /sobs)
4) What are some of the keys for Minnesota defensively? Based on the stats, it looks like Minnesota allows teams to make a decent number of shots, but they're fantastic at getting steals and generating turnovers.
TDG: Honestly I'm more worried about the offense, as this team could play a great defensive game and still hand it away with careless turnovers. But that's not the question. Being fundamentally sound and limiting teams to one shot are keys to me. The Gophers have been a pretty poor defensive rebounding team far too often. Not a great trait in general, but it's really not helpful for a team that strives to limit their opponent's opportunities by forcing turnovers. Minnesota also needs to avoid silly lapses that let a team get the same backdoor layup/dunk multiple times in a half. Yes, that's a thing and it's happened more than once.
5) Minnesota's not going to go 11/19 from 3-point range tomorrow night, are they? Please tell me they aren't going to do that again. I still have nightmares about last year's game.
TDG: I'll say yes because I have a dark soul and want to see you all suffer.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
TDG: No idea. I really doubt we'll see Minnesota play a complete game and dominate. Honestly anything from a 3 point win to a 10 point loss seems reasonable. As a good Minnesotan, I hate Iowa and therefore must go with the 3 point win. Call it 67-64 in a sloppy affair.
Thanks for being a good sport, GoAUpher, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tonight. You can check out the The Daily Gopher crew at The Daily Gopher. You can also follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher and GoAUpher at @GoAUpher. The Iowa-Minnesota game is in Minneapolis, MN on Tuesday, January 13, and is scheduled to start at 8:00 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.