GAME NOTES: A pair of Big Ten Conference teams currently ranked in the top-10 meet in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, as No. 5 Michigan comes calling on No. 9 Minnesota.
Michigan had been the lone undefeated team in the country heading into last Sunday's rivalry game at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes got the better of the Wolverines in what turned out to be a 56-53 final. Michigan had been poised to take over the top spot in this week's AP poll after Duke lost to NC State the day before, but the Maize and Blue succumbed to the pressure and will now try to rebound and up its record in true road games to 3-1.
Minnesota has been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, the team sporting a 15-2 record coming into this contest. Like Michigan however, the Golden Gophers are fresh off a loss of their own, as they dropped an 88-81 decision at Indiana last Saturday. The setback snapped a lengthy 11- game win streak for Tubby Smith's club, which owns a perfect 10-0 mark at home this season.
Michigan has an 85-65 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, although according to the Wolverines the sanction-adjusted series stands at 79-61. Michigan has won the last three meetings, and seven of the last eight overall.
Michigan dug itself a deep hole in its recent clash with Ohio State, trailing the Buckeyes by as many as 21 points in the first half. The Wolverines would battle back to make of game of it, but they just couldn't finish the deal as they wound up on the short end of a 56-53 final. Trey Burke scored 15 points, and fellow guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. tallied a dozen more for a Michigan squad that shot just 38.3 percent from the field, missing 14 of its 20 3-point tries along the way. As for OSU, it connected on 44 percent of its total shots, and outscored the visitors both in the paint (28-20), and off turnovers (18-13). Burke continues to pace the unit in scoring, averaging 18.0 ppg on the strength of his 52 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 39.2 percent showing from beyond the arc. Far from a one-trick pony, he is also one of the top floor generals in the country, amassing 120 assists (7.1 per game) in helping his team put up 79.1 ppg. The Wolverines, who also play stingy defense in yielding a mere 58.6 ppg, make good on 50.8 percent of their total shots, which includes 40.4 percent of their 3-point tries. They also own favorable margins in both rebounding (+9.4) and turnovers (+2.5).
Minnesota didn't play all that poorly in its recent game against Indiana, but the Hoosiers shot the lights out in the opening half and turned 17 Gopher giveaways into 27 points in what wound up being a seven-point decision. Andre Hollins scored 25 points to lead all five UM starters in double figures, the team as a whole shooting 43.9 percent from the field, draining 11 3-pointers along the way. Indiana hit a sizzling 65.6 percent of its total shots in the opening frame, including 7-of-11 from long distance, but cooled off considerably after the break (.286) and committed 15 turnovers themselves. Trevor Mbakwe logged a double-double for the Gophers, tallying 13 points and 10 rebounds, raising his season average in both categories to 9.5 points and a team-high 8.1 caroms per contest, respectively. Minnesota's leading scorer is Andre Hollins (14.4 ppg, 3.6 apg), although Rodney Williams (12.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Austin Hollins (10.9 ppg) and Joe Coleman (10.9 ppg) have been productive players as well. The team as a whole generates 76.3 ppg, while the opposition accounts for 61.4 ppg. Minnesota outshoots its foes (.470 to .387), and is nearly 10 rpg better as well (40.6 rpg to 30.7 rpg).
This should be a wildly entertaining affair between two teams that will surely be in the thick of the Big Ten title race the rest of the way. One of them is going to be saddled with a second straight loss though, and while it may have been unthinkable just a few days ago, expect that team to be Michigan.