Ann Arbor, Michigan - What's up?
The Gophers face Michigan in their fourth conference road game Saturday night.
Here are five questions related to the matchup:
What's Trevor Mbakwe's biggest contribution?
Mbakwe is the Big Ten's rebounding leader (11.7 rpg). And he's the No. 2 scorer on the Gophers roster (13.2 ppg).
With his defense, however, the Gophers cut off the lane.
Mbakwe has recorded 14 blocks in the last four games. Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III are the top shot-blockers in the Big Ten. They lead the conference with 2.5 per contest.
The Gophers have one of the best interior defenses in the country. And Mbakwe's defensive production is a big part of that.
The Gophers need him to continue to play that way on D, as much as they need him to own the boards.
Has Tubby changed his rotation system?
Yep. He's limited. He doesn't have last year's veterans. The experience off the bench in Smith's first three seasons made his five-in, five-out system easier to implement.
Now, he looks to the bench and he has three freshmen, who are playing more limited minutes.
I think Smith intends to play his veterans until they're fatigued or they get into foul trouble. And that's the way it should be. The best teams win with their best players. And the Gophers need their starters on the floor as much as possible to win games in this league.
Do the Wolverines have a chance Saturday?
If you've followed the Gophers, then you know the answer to this question. You never know with this team.
Yes, they beat Purdue. Then, they fell asleep in the second half against Iowa.
Michigan has lost five in a row, but the Wolverines took Kansas to overtime and lost to No. 1 Ohio State by three. They held Syracuse to 53 points.
The Gophers won nine Big Ten road games in Tubby Smith's first three seasons. They're not exactly comfortable away from home.
For me, this matchup feels like last season's road game against Indiana. The Hoosiers played tough early and shocked the Gophers, who lost that contest.
Earlier this season, the Gophers finished with 16 turnovers against Eastern Kentucky, a team that employs John Beilein's 1-3-1 zone. They were down 22-13 in that game. Now, they'll face the real thing.
I expect a tough game for the Gophers.
How can the Gophers avoid an unfavorable outcome?
They have to hound Darius Morris. He's a very talented guard. But in Michigan's eight losses, he averaged 14.3 points and had 26 turnovers.
If he gets going, the Wolverines will go with him.
Do players/coaches have nightmares about Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims?
Probably. That duo played like Pippen-Jordan against the Gophers. They combined to score 92 points against the Gophers in two games, both losses, last season.
But the 2010-11 Wolverines lack that balance. And they're young.
Prediction: I think this game will be close.
Gophers 60, Michigan 59 (I'm 16-2 this season).