Iowa City, Iowa – Initial thoughts.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a tough place to play. Iowa’s a frustrating team to face.
Its ability to contend with Purdue for 30 minutes or so earlier this week is even more impressive, after watching the way the Boilermakers dominated West Virginia Friday.
Last year, Minnesota found itself in a 13-point hole before halftime and needed a huge burst in the second half to get the job done.
Oh yeah. Ralph Sampson III’s expected to miss the Saturday Border Battle with a sprained ankle. The loss of the 6-11 starter obviously makes the Gophers smaller, another benefit for the Hawkeyes, who outrebounded Purdue.  
But wait … there’s plenty of good news.
Iowa played well against Purdue, but based on a number of unimpressive outings this season, that game was probably more of a get-up-for-the-big-national-power performance than a sign of a surge.
Even without Sampson, the Gophers have a serious talent advantage. And they’re on a six-game winning streak.
Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber have carried the offensive load during that stretch. Iowa’s perimeter defense is one of the worst in the Big Ten. At least one member of that duo should succeed.
Iowa has the worst scoring offense in the league (64.0 points per game) and the Hawkeyes are up against one of the top scoring defenses in the conference (59.9 points per game allowed).
Another advantage for the Gophers. All of the Hawkeyes fans are in Florida, awaiting the Orange Bowl. Add in the fact that it’s about minus-8 degrees out here … I’m not anticipating a huge crowd.
Key Matchup
Minnesota C Colton Iverson v. Iowa C Jarryd Cole
Iverson’s a 6-11 post player. Cole might be 6-7, as listed. The Gophers have to get production from their post players, especially in these situations.
There’s an obvious size advantage. This is the kind of game where Iverson – and whoever else joins him in the paint – needs to pound his way to the basket. Get to the foul line. Make your free throws. This is Iverson’s kind of matchup.
But Cole’s tough. He uses his 250-pound frame well. He’s been inconsistent offensively, but he’ll make Iverson work on both ends of the floor. Cole’s going to be aggressive. How will Iverson respond?
Look for this battle to begin immediately following tipoff.
Minnesota’s Edge … Even without Sampson, the Gophers still have more size in the paint. Attacking the glass should lead to success.
Iowa’s Edge … The Hawkeyes find ways to get their opponents to play at their sluggish pace. The Gophers offense gets stale at times. That plays right into Iowa’s gameplan.
The Gophers will win if … They take advantage of their physical advantages in the post, while crashing the boards and capitalizing off second-chance opportunities. Another solid performance by a perimeter player would help, too.
Iowa will win if … They match the Gophers early and take advantage of Minnesota’s lapses in aggression in the post. The Gophers still have problems sealing off paths to the basket, so Iowa should get some good looks. The Hawkeyes have to play with the same fire they displayed against Purdue earlier this week.
Prediction: I think Iowa will keep things close against the Gophers. But in the end, the Hawkeyes won’t have the depth or size to get a victory.
Minnesota 65, Iowa 54

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Ralph Sampson out with ankle injury at Iowa Saturday

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With Sampson out again, the Gophers will play more small ball