At this point, it would be very tough for the Gophers to miss the NCAA tournament – losing today at Ohio State wouldn’t affect that very much, nor would losing the next game at home Tuesday against against No. 1-ranked Indiana.
In that sense, the Buckeyes might have a greater urgency for a win – for them, finishing at No. 5 in the conference would be a disappointment. For the Gophers, at this point, that would be something of a victory.
At the same time, Ohio State’s tournament resume currently is, in a lot of ways, actually weaker than the Gophers, although the Buckeyes don’t have any bad losses. The Buckeyes have just two wins against top-50 RPI opponents, while the Gophers have four (all in the top 30). That’s part of the reason why Minnesota is No. 15 in the RPI, while Ohio State is No. 30. Also, the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule is ranked 24th, while the Gophers’ is ranked second.
But regardless of how Minnesota set itself up with a strong start to the year, at some point the Gophers will need to flip the recent script if they’re going to head into the tournament with any kind of momentum. Wins against Penn State and Nebraska, and even Purdue won’t do that. Minnesota needs to make a statement else their season be viewed as a slightly improved version of the last two disappointing years.
With Rodney Williams most likely sitting out tonight with a recurring shoulder injury, that could be tough – but not impossible.
Elliott Eliason, who would start in place of Williams, gives the starting lineup a lot more length, and he is a better facilitator in the high-low passing game to Trevor Mbakwe. Eliason has done a pretty good job rebounding recently as well. What the Gophers would miss is Williams’ scoring potential, although the forward hasn’t been a consistent attack in the last five games.
It will be interesting to see how the Gophers attack Buckeyes’ star Deshaun Thomas – who is averaging 20 points per game and is nearly doubling the points of the next guy in the starting five. Will they put two guys on him and attempt to shut him down? Or will they go for the “everything but” strategy, assuming the big man will get his, and attempt to shut down everyone else in the starting five, which may prove to be an easier prospect?
Some quick notes on tonight’s game:
- Ohio State comes in having lost three of their last four, including a stinker at Wisconsin on Sunday (71-49 – ouch).
- After Thomas, the scoring drops down significantly. Lenzelle Smith is next in line with 10.2, Aaron Craft has 9.3, Sam Thompson has 7.1 and Amir Williams, 4.4.
- Gophers coach Tubby Smith indicated he might play Mo Walker more tonight than the big man has played in recent games, hinting that he would be the first to sub in after Eliason. “I’m very impressed with how Mo has recovered from all his injuries and he’s got a lot of spring in his step,” Smith said. “He had some fouls the other day, but he’s not getting a lot of court time so we need to get him out there to play more, so he’s a guy that could come in behind Elliott.”
- Thomas averages more than ten minutes more per game (34.9) than Mbakwe does (24.5).
- The Gophers have lost five straight at Value Arena (as well as five straight overall to the Buckeyes) and are 0-for-3 in Columbus during Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota.
- If Thomas grabs six rebounds tonight, he will reach 500 on his career.
- Ohio State is a 5.5-point favorite over Minnesota.
*Today’s game is on Big Ten Network
*Listen to today’s game live on 1500-a.m.
*In today’s Star Tribune: Deshaun Thomas is everything for Ohio State
*More on the matchup here.
*On the blog: Both Gophers and Buckeyes are desperate for a win, but are both feeling the same desperation?
*On the blog: Rodney Williams likely out with tweaked shoulder (plus other notes)
*This week’s aMAILia BAG
*Bigfoot click: The DNA evidence has been published ... but not ideally.