The last time the Gophers played Michigan, Minnesota was a team trying to make sense of a Big Ten collapse, with then-freshman Andre Hollins trying to figure out the point guard role on the fly.
Hollins scored 21 points in that Big Ten tournament game last season and battled with his highly touted counterpart, Trey Burke -- who erupted for 30 points for the Wolverines -- but ultimately the Gophers fell short in a 73-69 overtime loss. Michigan was stronger, Burke was better; Hollins, carrying Minnesota, was not quite there.
Tonight, however, could be a different story.
"I've changed a lot," Hollins said, grinning. "Just knowing how to run a team as a point guard, I obviously have to take care of the ball more than I did. ... It's going to be a great matchup and [Burke is] a great player. I've been watching film on him. It's going to be a challenge -- I'm looking forward to it."
No. 5 Michigan comes to Williams Arena to face the No. 9 Gophers tonight with both teams eager to shake off their first conference losses of the season last weekend -- Michigan at Ohio State, the Gophers at Indiana. The deciding factor might be how well the Gophers backcourt can neutralize Michigan's guards.
Burke heads a group of Wolverines perimeter players that is among the most impressive in college basketball, including Tim Hardaway Jr. -- who lit up the Gophers for 20 points in their last meeting -- and freshman shooter Nik Stauskas. Burke might be the most hyped of the bunch, but being surrounded by scoring threats is part of what has made the sophomore so successful this season, leading the team with 18 points and seven assists per game.
Hollins got a good prep course for the task ahead by playing against No. 2 Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, whom Hollins struggled to guard one-on-one. As teammates came off their assignments to help Hollins, Ferrell would pass to open Hoosiers for uncontested jump shots. With Michigan utilizing a similarly balanced attack, the pressure will be on Hollins to keep Burke in front of him.
"It's going to be critical that we contain [Burke]," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "You're not going to stop a great player like Trey Burke, but you've got to try to limit the things he can beat you at. ... He can beat you in many different areas, whether it's penetrating or pitching it to open guys or making the jump shot or driving all the way to the basket for layups. He's just a very versatile and very talented player. So it's going to take not one guy, but a team effort."
Considering the Wolverines' potent scorers other than Burke, that chore will be a grind. In a 95-67 victory over Iowa on Jan. 6, freshman Glenn Robinson III broke loose for 20 points. Stauskas is capable of hitting three-pointers in bunches and has made more than half his attempts from behind the arc this season.
"It's really tough because you shut down one guy and some other guy is going to be able to score," said Gophers guard Joe Coleman, who will try to cover the Michigan perimeter players along with Andre and Austin Hollins. "We've just really got to focus in on disrupting them as much as we can on defense and limit our mistakes."
The Gophers still endure stretches where they seem to get out of sync on defense and allow that sloppiness to carry over into their offense, producing rashes of turnovers. But as a whole, the Gophers offense clearly is running more fluidly than a year ago.
Minnesota is geared up for the challenge now, and eager to show the difference a season has made.
"Sometimes last year I'd come down the floor like a deer in headlights, like 'Should I run, I don't know, I don't know.'" Andre Hollins said. "This year I'm more in control, just kind of scoping out the defense, know what plays work for us, know what plays don't work as well, know what plays we need to call, who's hot."