Not that every game from here on out is not a big game for the Hoosiers and their tournament hopes, but this one could be monumental. In a Big Ten Conference where we're all constantly jockeying for position, a win in this game could be Indiana inside the bubble and within striking range of a very high conference finish. At this point, 1st and 2nd are not an option, but 3rd on down is still up for grabs. The Hoosiers really need to scrap out a win here. Doing so ties them for fourth in conference and only one game back from third. While they still have the opportunity to play the teams they're tied with. By winning this game, Indiana guarantees they control their own destiny.
Which obviously begs the question, what does Indiana need to do to get tomorrow's game in the win column. Well, Indiana is lucky enough to be getting Minnesota in the middle of a pretty big skid. They've lost their last three, including a home game to Northwestern and 4 of their last 5. In conference, Minnesota is 3-2 at home with losses to Michigan and Northwestern, while holding onto wins over Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin. They obviously aren't going to go quietly.
As a part of Minnesota's three game skid, the Gophers' best player Andre Hollins has been sidelined with injury for two of them. He was a surprise starter on Wednesday in West Lafayette, but proceeded to go 3 for 14 from the field for eight points. The consistency of Dre Hollins has been something Minnesota has been able to lean on over their hot start to the season, but without his production they've struggled.
On Wednesday, Purdue took them to triple overtime before finally beating them. Probably the most encouraging thing you can take from that game outside of the general high number of minutes the two teams was forced to play is that Purdue played pretty poorly and still won. Without a lights out Dre Hollins, the Gophers can be beat. And they can be beat ugly.
Outside of Dre Hollins you have to worry about Austin Hollins. Though unrelated, the two headed Hollins monster for Minnesota can be quite effective. These two when on the floor together account for about 50% of Minnesota's possessions. Couple them with the 5-9 Deandre Mathieu and you've got 70% of Minnesota's touches being generated from the perimeter players. Despite such a perimeter oriented offense, the Gophers can still struggle to generate baskets at times. They have the nation's 21st best offense, but they're only 98th in eFG% and don't get to the line very well. If the Hoosiers can limit these three to a poor shooting night you have to feel pretty good about their chances.
The conference's best rebounder not named Noah Vonleh will be lining up across from the freshman tomorrow in his first big task of the conference season. Though Indiana has faced off with other big rebounders like Branden Dawson and Ross Travis, it hasn't been Vonleh matched up with the threats. This is a game where Vonleh can really show he is NBA ready by going head to head with another great rebounder and holding him in check. If Noah can get a double-double tomorrow, I'll be impressed.
On the whole, Indiana has to feel pretty confident about being able to go into Minnesota's building and walk away with a win. The Gophers are on a skid where their top 25 offense has struggled to break a point per possession. If the Hoosiers can continue making them inefficient with their own lock down defense, the Minnesota defense has shown a lot of cracks against athletic teams. This is the 3rd toughest remaining game on the schedule for Indiana but it is far from out of the question on whether they can win. It's going to take a complete performance, but this is the game that can get them over the hump in terms of tournament resumes.