On Saturday afternoon. the Minnesota Golden Gophers went on the road to Ann Arbor for it lone (scheduled) matchup against the Michigan Wolverines this season. While Michigan was favored heading into the matchup, these teams had played some thrillers over the last few years and Saturday figured to be another.
Early on, Minnesota showed it belonged and jumped out to an early lead over the Wolverines. Nate Mason played really well, scoring Minnesota’s first seven points of the afternoon. Michigan did find itself as the first half developed, but the Gophers were able to take a 34-32 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Minnesota continued that success. However, in the final five minutes, Michigan made its pushed and was able to grab the lead. Then, when Minnesota’s offense struggled, Michigan grabbed a five-point lead with less than a minute remaining. A late turnover by Michigan pushed it to overtime, but the Wolverines were able to grab a 76-73 win in the extra period.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Moritz Wagner carried the Wolverines on Saturday.
Basketball is a team game, but sometimes one player can separate himself from the group. On Saturday, that was Moritz Wagner. He was fantastic for the entire afternoon and kept Michigan’s offense going when things looked rough.
Wagner finished with 16 points and I10 rebounds on the afternoon and went 3-for-9 from three-point range. He was also particularly impressive in the second half, getting inside and punishing Minnesota for switching on screens. He routinely got to the free throw line and got a number of Gophers into foul trouble.
While Michigan will certainly need more than just Wagner to reach its goals this season,
2. Michigan still has a free throw shooting problem.
This was a different game, but the same story for Michigan. By most accounts, Michigan was a much better team than Minnesota entering Saturday’s matchup. Heck, even on Saturday, Michigan showed far more consistency than the Gophers.
However, Michigan was incapable of building momentum due to significant struggles at the free throw line. The Wolverines went just 12-for-28 (42.9%) from the free throw stripe on the afternoon and it was a huge factor in why a significant underdog played so well on the road. Simply put, Michigan couldn’t capitalize on Minnesota’s mistakes.
This issue might be easier to solve if it was just one player, but this is a problem created by a number of players on Michigan’s roster. Don’t be surprised if this issue continues to show up heading into March.
3. Despite a tough loss, this was still progress.
Since losing Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch, Minnesota has been in an absolute free fall. The Gophers have lost four straight and seven of the team’s last eight games. And that includes three home losses and a road loss to a struggling Iowa team. As said, things haven’t exactly been pretty for Minnesota over the last few weeks.
And while Saturday’s game was still a loss, Minnesota showed far more fight than it has in weeks. The Gophers went on the road to face a ranked Michigan team and nearly walked out with a win. Moral victories aren’t worth all that much, but for a team that’s already likely missing the NCAA Tournament, it means something.
With Nebraska and Indiana coming up next, Minnesota could get back on the right track by playing like it did on Saturday.
4. Depth continues to remain THE issue for the Gophers.
Heading into this season, Minnesota projected to be one of the Big Ten’s best teams and a legitimate contender to make it past the first weekend of the Tournament. But as the games unfolded and Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch were lost (for varying reasons), it became apparent that Minnesota wouldn’t be quite as good as fans had projected during the offseason.
However, putting the losses of Coffey and Lynch aside for the moment, the biggest issue for Minnesota all season has been its underwhelming bench. The depth simply hasn’t developed and the young players have seen mixed results. In fact, the only young player who has done much this season is Isaiah Washington (who had a great game on Saturday) and his offensive rating was 87.4 heading into Saturday’s matchup.
Depth doesn’t develop overnight, but this is an area where Richard Pitino and his staff really need to work. Not only for this year, but for what’s to come next season and beyond. Nate Mason will be gone after this season and the team is losing multiple frontcourt players to graduation as well.
If the Gophers are going to be relevant in the years to come, the young players need to start making some noise.
It was a tight game between the Gophers and Wolverines, but Michigan ended up doing just enough to avoid the upset. It was a big win for the Wolverines largely because it avoided disaster for the team.
Michigan will now move on and face Northwestern on the road on Tuesday and Minnesota will move on to face Nebraska at home on Tuesday.