This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

5ive Questions: Should the Gophers go big against the Boilermakers?

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: January 29, 2011 - 8:49 AM

West Lafayette, Ind. - What's up? 

The 16th-ranked Gophers play at 12th-ranked Purdue Saturday. Should be a good game.

Here are five questions related to the matchup: 

Is the big lineup the best lineup for Saturday's game? 

Yep.

There are some potential problems with that alignment, however, the good seems to outweigh the bad.

Purdue doesn't have a lot of brawn in the paint. It'll be hard for the Boilermakers to play man-to-man with so many big bodies. And the Gophers' big men can pass, something they proved against Northwestern. That will help them crack a zone.

Plus, all of the attention inside allows Blake Hoffarber to be more of a distributor than a ballhandler. He'll continue to look for his shot, except now he can dictate where the ball goes as a point guard.

I think Rodney Williams benefits most. Purdue will try to contain the Gophers inside. The Boilermakers will try to smother Hoffarber. Rodney can roam. Dunks, layups, baseline drives .... all of that should be there for him, he just has to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunities.

On defense, the Gophers will try to lock up the paint and keep JaJuan Johnson outside of the lane. They've frustrated E'Twaun Moore over the last two games. And Smith doesn't look like the same sharpshooter who started the Big Ten season on a hot streak.

What are the potential pitfalls of starting all three bigs?

A lot could go wrong with a big lineup. JaJuan Johnson will draw fouls. Early foul trouble for Minnesota's post players would definitely put the Gophers in a bind, especially down the stretch.

Blake Hoffarber will play point guard, but he scored 26 points against the Boilermakers Jan. 13 as a two-guard. But with Rodney Williams' struggles from the perimeter, Hoffarber will face even more pressure. 

The extra big body could also hamper Minnesota's transition defense. The Boilermakers can run. Can the Gophers keep up? 

They'll probably play a lot of zone again. And although E'Twaun Moore and Ryne Smith have struggled recently, they can both catch fire quickly and rip that scheme.

As much as Williams benefits from his size advantage, he'll have to keep up with smaller, quicker players.

Can the Gophers stop JaJuan Johnson? 

They don't have to. He's topped 20 points and shot 53 percent from the field in the last five games. But the Boilermakers won two of those contests.

The Gophers will try to force other players to beat them. Johnson should be a first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft. But his supporting cast hasn't risen to the occasion in recent games.

I just expect Johnson to have a huge game. He's a bad matchup for most teams. But really, this game is about everyone else on the Purdue roster.

How will Blake Hoffarber respond to the pressure?

Hoffarber has to keep up with speedy Lewis Jackson, although he'll get help via the zone, and he has to control the ball on offense, while Jackson, Moore and others attack.

Al Nolen had eight assists and one turnover in Minnesota's victory over the Boilermakers. That's the kind of point guard play Saturday's game demands. Hoffarber had four turnovers against Northwestern.

The Boilermakers will swarm him.

He's a tough player. But this will be a real test.

My guess is that Hoffarber will play to the strengths of that big lineup and push the ball inside to get out of jams.

But turnovers could be a big problem if he struggles against Purdue's pressure.

Any under-the-radar players who could have a huge impact on Saturday's game? 

For the Gophers, it's Austin Hollins. He came off the bench against Northwestern and scored 10 points. He also recorded two steals. The freshman could come off the bench and produce on offense and defense.

For the Boilermakers, it's Lewis Jackson. The 5-9 guard is fast and when he's playing well, his teammates respond. The Boilermakers are 10-1 when Jackson has six or more assists. He had 15 points, five assists and seven rebounds against the Gophers Jan. 13. And that was with a healthy Nolen on the floor.

Prediction: Gophers 75, Purdue 80 (overtime) (I'm 17-3 this season)

 

 

 

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