PJS: Tubby is in the middle of one hell of a honeymoon period right now. And he used some of the capital that comes along with that to drop a bomb on many Minnesota fans. What was it? He suggested that the University ought to think long-term about replacing historical Williams Arena.
You're right to want to see a game there. The atmosphere can be electric when the team is playing well. The raised floor has a strange charm to it. And the building--though not without its drawbacks and blind spots--means more to many Minnesota basketball fans than any one coach will ever be. While this conversation came and went in the blogosphere and on the message boards quickly, it caused some online pundits I respect to say they'd rather jettison Tubby than raze the Barn if it came to that.
I personally don't agree with that position. Tubby is thinking about building Minnesota into a perennial national contender. To do that, he wants top notch facilities across the board. His first task is to bring Minnesota a practice facility on par with other top notch power conference schools. Eventually, he sees a day when a 14,000-plus arena will render a program non-competitive. I don't know if he is right or wrong, but I think most Minnesota fans would put up one hell of a fight if talk of replacing the Barn got serious. Me? I'm willing to listen. If there is a middle ground, a new Williams Arena, if we can keep the floor, I'd listen.
On to the game Thursday. It's nationally televised. The Gophers are returning home fresh off a confidence-boosting win on the road. Indiana is coming off a surprisingly hard fought game at home against Illinois. So, how did Illinois hang around? What did they do to slow Eric Gordon? And what do you see as Indiana's weaknesses? Where should Minnesota attack IU, and what types of defenses have slowed the Hoosiers so far?
It's clear from above and from my other posts about Illinois that I'm not a fan of Bruce Weber. I do respect him immensely as a coach, however. This year's Illinois team defends well, rebounds well, and takes care of the ball, but can't throw it in the ocean from the beach. I'm not much of an x's and o's guy, but I thought Illinois did a great job against Gordon, who hopefully learned that especially at home, he should take it to the basket constantly against an aggressive defensive team. At times it seemed like Illinois had seven guys on the floor: two on White, two on Gordon, man to man on everyone else. They did a great job doubling those guys whenever they had the ball. Also, Illinois made its first 6 shots and had a 13-4 lead four minutes into the game (those six field goals were nearly a third of the 19 Illinois hit in the game). Combine that with a below-average night from behind the arc, and the Hoosiers were forced into a nailbiter. If there is a knock on Sampson tactically, it's that his teams don't necessarily respond well to new or novel defenses and IU's best players are too prone to turnover problems. If I were coaching against IU I would take the kitchen sink approach and mix up the defensive looks to cause some discomfort (as if anyone could be "comfortable" playing on that platform!)
So, a little basketball talk back at you. What will Minnesota have to do to win? Which Gophers hold the key to defeating the Hoosiers?
PJS: The Gophers are going to need big games from a number of players to pull the upset. This starts with our trio of seniors. Of that group, Dan Coleman is the most talented of the bunch. He scores almost at will against inferior competition but tends to disappear in tight battles. During the Dan Monson era, Coleman played primarily on the perieter offensively despite playing power forward. Tubby Smith has worked to get Coleman to take the ball to the basket and attack. If Coleman is doing that, and getting to the foul line, I like our chances. Fellow seniors Lawrence McKenzie (who played for Sampson at Oklahoma before trasnferring to his home state) and Spencer Tollackson also need to find ways to score.
Aside from the seniors, the Gophers need freshman Blake Hoffarber, who is shooting an amazing 40-81 from three point range. If he gest hot, watch out. And his ability to hit from deep alone could open things up on the inside for the Gophers. I think you'll see Tubby change his defenses like you suggested above. He did that to much success during the 16-point comeback at Penn State last weekend. Tubby is known for his ball-line, hand-in-the-passing=lane defense that creates turnovers and easy points. Beacuse IU shoots well from outside and rebounds well, I don't see the Gophers playing too much zone.
More than anything else, the Gophers need to create turnovers. We don't have the playmaker like Eric Gordon who can score at will, so we need to create opportunities. If IU doesn't protect the ball, the Gophers can pull off this upset.
You have a prediction for Gophers fans who are all of a sudden thinking about an NCAA tournament berth?
HR: While the Xavier game that you mention was a neutral site game, IU has had only one road game against a respectable team, the win at disappointing Southern Illinois. As you note, the Barn has not been kind to the Hoosiers: the 50 point loss in 1994, the come-from-ahead loss to the probation-ravaged Gophers in 2000, the pathetic laydown in 2006...my hope is that this is the year that IU starts winning these games for the first time since the early 1990s. But until I see it, Minnesota 80, Indiana 72.
One final question and we can wrap this up: you allude to the Gopher's NCAA hopes. If my memory is correct, 2005 is the only time the Gophers have been there since the scandal. Will it happen in 2008?
PJS: NCAA? The optimist in me says yes. The Gophers could win 20 games. But the non-conference schedule didn't yield a good win. Without beating someone like Indiana, MSU or Wisconsin, I don't see it. If the Gophers win as you and I predict, the outlook will improve dramatically. I pick the Gophers over Indiana by two, 77-75.