Gophers Basketball
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Minnesota (6-12; 0-6) vs. Michigan (13-5; 3-2) at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, MI

Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT

TV: BTN

Radio: 1500-a.m.

Spread: Minnesota +16.5 (the worst odds the Gophers have had since the start of Big Ten play)

Pregame reading:

Minnesota rediscovered defense against Indiana; now, can the Gophers duplicate it? Click.

Previewing both teams. Click.

U of M alum Richard Coffey spoke to the Gophers about courage on Monday. Click.

On the blog: notes on Jordan Murphy, Ahmad Gilbert’s injury and Richard Pitino’s tiniest heckler. Click.

Three storylines to watch on Minnesota’s fourth Big Ten road trip of the year:

Next steps. The days of “low-motor Murph” seem long ago. Although freshman Jordan Murphy hasn’t had the same level of breakouts offensively in the Big Ten slate, he’s settled into a consistency and is still the Gophers best weapon. But anyone watching him regularly should realize there’s a much higher standard he can reach this year. The 6-6 forward has been scouted a lot differently since the start of league play, and is often trapped in the post, so that’s a major hurdle to cover. He also might be called on to play a little more small forward now that Ahmad Gilbert is sitting with a dislocated finger, so learning to get more involved and work out of the post when he’s playing the wing will be another less – and probably one necessary if he plans to play at the next level. Michigan’s frontcourt is undersized and has been inconsistent and a revolving door of semi-productive bodies, so there is opportunity to see some signs of a next step tonight. Richard Pitino on what he wants to see: “He’s posting up too far out. He’s catching the ball in bad positions. Free-throw shooting is certainly an issue. There are points there that he can get, but I think it’s scouting more than anything. Post up deeper, go quicker on his moves, and just continue to evolve his post presence.”

Man to man to man to man. We’ve seen a lot of zone defense lately, that is, until last game, when we didn’t see a minute of it. Against Indiana, the Gophers played all man-to-man defense. They also had their best effort of conference play so far. Coincidence? I’m not sure, but I do know that Minnesota’s zone is about seven shades of ugly, particularly against good-shooting teams. The man has certainly had its problems at times, as well, but the Gophers rolled with it last time around and Michigan is loaded with perimeter threats, so my guess is Pitino will mostly stick with it again tonight. “I was going to play some zone [on Saturday] but I thought our man to man was really good,” Pitino said. [Zone]scares me against Michigan because they’re such a great catch and shoot team and they’ve got good length at their threes and their fours. But the zone definitely has value, so I’m not going to shelf that by any means.”

Vaultin’ Walton. From a scoring perspective, 6-1 guard Derrick Walton has fallen into a nice consistent zone of production in the last three games with star Caris Levert out with a lower leg injury (he’s expected to miss tonight’s game too). But while Walton is apt at leading the Wolverine’s super-efficient offense (59.4 eFG%, third nationally), don’t underestimate his ability to hit the boards. Despite his size, Walton has been bizarrely good on the defensive glass this season. His rebound percentage is ranked eighth in a conference with some very large big men and 154th nationally. That’s not shabby. In the last three games, he’s grabbed a total of 21. For an opponent that's ranked 12th in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding and 13th in defensive rebounds, that's concerning. If the Gophers don’t scurry after long rebounds and loose balls, Walton could abuse them bigtime.

Number:

2 – Big teams that Richard Pitino hasn’t managed to top in his two and a half years at Minnesota. And guess what, one of them is Michigan. The Wolverines are 7-0 against the Gophers since a Jan. 22, 2011 Minnesota victory in Ann Arbor.

My prediction: Minnesota remains competitive in the first half but is ultimately overwhelmed by Michigan’s long ball. Michigan 79, Minnesota 62