On Saturday afternoon, Michigan and Minnesota tipped off in what figured to be a relatively well balanced game on paper and one that could be pivotal for both teams for a potential postseason bids. Michigan entered the game at 9-6 overall and 2-1 in Big Ten play. Minnesota entered the game at 11-5 and 0-3 in Big Ten play.
During the game, Michigan got out to a nice start, but gradually faded and Minnesota came back to take the lead. It largely went back and forth from there in a pretty competitive game until the Gophers jumped out to a sizable lead during the 2nd Half. However, after that, Michigan used its 1-3-1 zone defense and Minnesota had no answer as they committed turnovers, were ineffective on offense, and gave up easy transition looks to the Wolverines. At the final buzzer, Michigan won by a final score of 62-57.
So what did we learn?
What We Learned
Michigan's NCAA Tournament Hopes Aren't Dead Yet
A few weeks ago, the Wolverines had been all but written off from a potential NCAA Tournament bid. It still would take an incredibly impressive finish to make it, but over the last few weeks, Michigan has scored some valuable wins and has at least kept their dreams alive. Before Michigan went on the road to face Purdue, BTPowerhouse actually had a full length article looking at whether Michigan could make an NCAA Run. The three game stretch that would be vital were Michigan's last three games. Although the Wolverines lost to Purdue, they scored a road win over Penn State and a home win over Minnesota. All 3 of these games were "toss ups" on paper and to score 2 wins was huge. If Michigan can keep winning most of these types of games and pull off a few upsets, they might just have a chance.
The Big Ten Needs To Watch Out For Ricky Doyle
When you talk about the best frontcourt players in the Big Ten, most are going to talk about players like Isaac Haas, AJ Hammons, Frank Kaminsky, and Aaron White, but one player who is flying under the radar is Michigan's Ricky Doyle. On Saturday, he finished with just 12 points and 6 rebounds, but his contributions in just 26 minutes and in 8 field goal attempts were vital to Michigan winning the game. He made moves inside to create space, played physical defense down low, and largely avoided making key mistakes. He is not in that elite group just yet, but he looks like he could be a big time contributor for Michigan in the future.
Minnesota Needs To Get Back On Track
The Gophers looked like they could be a serious contender in the Big Ten during non-conference play and would be in good position to make the NCAA Tournament. Now, after just 4 games in conference play, fans are being forced to consider what Minnesota needs to do to get back on track. There have certainly been factors outside of Minnesota's play that have contributed to this slow start such as a tough opening stretch with 3 road games and a tough Ohio State at home, but to drop to 0-4 is certainly disappointing. The good news is that Minnesota has never looked downright bad during this start and gets a much more manageable upcoming stretch. In fact, KenPom has Minnesota favored in their next 7 games before going on the road to face Iowa. Playing well here will be vital for Minnesota.
Minnesota Needs To Decrease Turnovers
Any fan knows that turnovers can be a big hinderance to a team's performance, but it's often how they happen that really determines what they mean. For instance, tough defenses can force turnovers simply because they play really good defense. On Saturday, Minnesota committed 17 turnovers against Michigan and often did so in terrible fashion. Michigan did force some turnovers which included some great plays from Caris LeVert, but so many of these turnovers were simply reckless passes, including some from Deandre Mathieu. In fact, Mathieu had a really bad game on Saturday with 5 turnovers, a 30 offensive rating and 0 points in 29 minutes. Minnesota's backcourt needs to play better and the first step will be in cutting down the turnovers.
This was a big win for the Wolverines and although they are a long way form making any potential NCAA Tournament run, this was big to help get them closer to striking distance. For Minnesota, they will have to get back on track against a good Iowa team on Tuesday.