Friday, March 9, 2012

Big Ten Tournament Round 2: Minnesota vs. Michigan

Well, in surprising fashion, Minnesota upset Northwestern yesterday to screw up many of the nation's Big Ten Tournament predictions.  For the vast majority of Michigan fans (myself included), this was great news.  Minnesota is not only less talented than Northwestern, but they underachieve on a consistent basis as well.  They blew numerous leads this season against not only good teams, but against weaker teams as well.  They shouldn't be overlooked, but Michigan should be heavily favored when the two teams tip-off.

Michigan will primarily have to work to slow down Rodney Williams.  He is averaging 10.9 points per game this season, which leads the Golden Gophers (excludes Mbakwe who only played 7 games).  Stopping Williams is even more important because one of Minnesota's better players, Ralph Sampson III, was injured earlier this week.  He offered a challenge to Michigan's limited size, even though he was not a major factor when Minnesota and Michigan faced off earlier this season, and will need to be addressed by the Wolverines.

Michigan has been pretty good in Big Ten Tournaments over the last few years and they should continue that legacy now.  Minnesota will be over-matched and likely tired after their overtime win against Northwestern.  If this game is close for long segments, I expect Michigan to gain an advantage near the end simply because the Golden Gophers should "wear out".  Michigan rested earlier this week and had the opportunity to sit back and watch the Minnesota vs. Northwestern game because of their solid seeding.  There's no doubt this is an advantage for Michigan in this type of tournament.

The challenge for Michigan in this situation is to stay focused on Minnesota and to make sure they play up to their potential.  A likely rematch with the Buckeyes looms on Saturday, but beating Minnesota needs to remain the Wolverines' top priority.  I think we all can remember times this season when Michigan seemed over-matched against opponents they should have beaten.  Prime examples can be seen in Michigan's games against Iowa and Purdue.  Michigan is better than both those teams, but lost because they came out as an unfocused group.

The bottom-line is for the Wolverines to come out playing with fire and passion.  If they are able to get a solid lead, I really don't see anyway the Golden Gophers will be able to come back.  Not only because they will be tired after beating Northwestern in overtime yesterday, but also because they have a lot of significant injuries.  I really like Michigan in this game and I believe they will have a rematch with Ohio State.  If both teams win that game should be very interesting, but I think both of those teams win today.

My Magic Pick Is...

Michigan 67-60

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