So, was the Michigan pounding over Northwestern in the first Big Ten game of the season more an indictment of the Wildcats or an indication of just how strong Michigan is?
After today’s similar Wolverines rout over Iowa, my guess is the latter. Does this mean the Gophers should be more wary of the Wildcats as they come to the Barn this evening? After all, Iowa is not a bad team. No. 5 Indiana barely slid past the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in their first conference matchup. And while the Iowa game at Michigan today got out of hand in a QUICK way, I was impressed with some things the Hawkeyes did early, especially their patience and tight ball handling.
The Gophers certainly have the talent (not to mention the home advantage) to beat Northwestern. The Wildcats have a pretty thin team right now with Drew Crawford (elbow) and JerShon Cobb (suspension) done for the year. To pile on, there is a chance Reggie Hearn might not play either. The 3-point shooter has missed consecutive games with a sprained ankle. Even so, Minnesota will need to stay vigilant. Any team in this league can grab a win, so it will be important for the Gophers not to overlook the Wildcats, particularly after their strong win over Michigan State.
It will be interesting to see – if the Gophers can beat Northwestern – how much they dominate them. That could be a small indication of how they could fare with the Michigans and Indianas of the conference.
Other notes on tonight’s matchup:
- If Rodney Williams gets at least four points he will have 1000 in his career.
- The Gophers have won five consecutive games over Northwestern in the Barn. However, they are zero for their last four in Evanston.
- The last time the Gophers started the Big Ten season 2-0 was in 2009-10 with wins over Penn State and Iowa.
- Dating back to last season, Andre Hollins is averaging 22.6 points in his last three games against Big Ten competition. One of those teams was Northwestern, from the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
- Coach Tubby Smith used an abnormally short bench against Michigan State, and the continued hard effort from the starters was needed. Will he keep it up tonight against Northwestern?
- Freshman Wally Ellenson – who gave up his redshirt two games before league play -- didn’t play at all against the Spartans. My guess is the score will be a little more lopsided vs. Northwestern and he’ll see some time.
- Mo Walker played just two minutes in the Michigan State game and has been dealing with some shoulder soreness, but Smith said on Friday that he is feeling better and the expectation is that the big man will play.
- The Gophers shot 56.6 percent from the field against Michigan State and executed particularly well down the stretch. But the two major flaws that have been nagging the Gophers all season – turnovers and 3-point shooting – were still a concern. Minnesota had 16 turnovers (although none in the final 8:05 of play) while going 3-for-8 from beyond the arc.
*Watch tonight’s game on BTN.
*Listen to the game live on 1500-a.m.
*From today’s Star Tribune: Andre Hollins is flourishing with a long leash from Smith.
*From yesterday’s Strib: Ellenson: “I definitely just wanted to play.”
*On the blog: Why Smith seems so relaxed.
*Pat Reusse: Don’t forget about the OTHER 2014 local recruit, Rashad Vaughn.
*My CBB national notebook from yesterday’s Star Tribune: the Mountain West has it again this year.
*Bigfoot tale of the day: I don’t care whether you believe or not, you can’t NOT get into this classic.