Not even a plane crash can hold back the Michigan Wolverines. The program is now headed into their third game of the Big Ten Tournament, just three days removed from their scary plane crash in Ypsilanti.
On the other side of the court stands the Minnesota Gophers, fresh off a 63-58 win over Michigan State.
Tip-off is set for 1:00 P.M ET with CBS doing the broadcast.
According to KenPom, the Wolverines will be three point favorites (-3) over the Gophers, even though they’re four seeds below Minnesota. By my calculations, Mr. Beindit was spot-on about this being one of the most dangerous No. 8 seeds in recent memory.
1. Can Nate Mason Bounce Back After Poor Quarterfinal Performance?
All year, the Gophers have relied on Nate Mason to do their heavy lifting. He was recently named to the 1st team All-Big Ten, thanks to his hefty scoring and assist numbers. In 34.2 minutes per night, the 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.5 points per game alongside 5.1 assists a night.
However, for all of his regular season success, the Gophers basically won without him versus Michigan State. Mason shot just 2 of 14 from the field, turning the ball over three times compared to only four assists.
If Mason and company want to hang with Michigan’s high-flying offense, they will need their superstar to match his regular-season prosperity.
2. Will Michigan Be Worn Out?
If Michigan comes out flat against Minnesota, no one on this planet would have a good reason to blame them. They will be playing their third game in three days, coming on the heels of a near-tragedy on Wednesday afternoon.
In addition, head coach John Beilen plays a very tight rotation with only two reserve players averaging double-digits in minutes. It may benefit Michigan to go a little bit deeper against Minnesota, as the starting unit has to be getting worn down.
With that said, momentum is a funny thing and after beating Purdue, Michigan has it in spades. I believe the plane crash helped more than hindered, potentially bringing them closer as a team.
3. Who Will Fill Akeem Springs’ Role?
Minnesota’s captain, Akeem Springs, is an expert marksmen from beyond the arc. He’s shot 38 percent from three-point land this year, averaging nearly 10 points per game.
The only problem is, he went down with a serious injury against Michigan State. Instead burying threes on the wing and keeping the team focused, he will most likely be in street clothes, arms dangled over a set of wooden crutches.
Now, I’d love to tell you that Richard Pitino has a secret weapon buried on the bench, ready to drain jumpers on command. But, that would be a lie. Most likely, he will extend the other rotation players minutes, giving us no new Gophers reserve to cheer for.
What if I’m wrong, though? Who would be the guy to pull a Spike Albrecht if given the chance on Saturday?
Well, after scanning the roster and statistics, I came up with one name. Ahmad Gilbert.
Three-point shooting ability? Check the box.
Meaningful game experience? Check the box.
Healthy? Check the box.
Although, he has only played in 75 minutes this season. Gilbert actually started six games on last year’s squad. In addition to being a former three-star recruit, he has made 17 three pointers in his career. If given the chance, maybe he could be fill in and succeed in Springs’ absence.