So, How We Doin'? Minnesota 2022
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Here's the thing. Ohio State nearly lost at Nebraska, needing the Huskers to biff some free throws to even force overtime. Wisconsin just won at Purdue but that's one game after they nearly lost to Illinois State at home. Indiana can't even beat a 5-5 Penn State team that's been paused for three weeks. And Minnesota, a team I thought would be single-digit-win bad with only one player returning from last season, is 10-1 with wins at Michigan, Pitt, and Mississippi State. College basketball cannot be figured-out in 2022.
Speaking of pauses, we've been on a Covid pause since December 26th with most players in isolation and not practicing. Andre Curbelo is still out. Some players might be in masks tomorrow (and not Ayo masks). We don't know who has practiced and who hasn't put up a shot since the Missouri game.
Remember Michigan not wanting to play four days after their pause ended? Something about player safety and "return to play"? Well, we had to move this game from Sunday to Tuesday so we'd have at least seven players. Which means there's a lot of guys who are returning to play maybe the day after their isolation ends?
This game has bad juju. That's what I'm saying. Covid pauses and "should ANY Big Ten teams be ranked right now?" and Curbelo out for five weeks and Nebraska losing at home to Michigan by 35 and then nearly beating Ohio State. We're well beyond "just don't apply transitive property" and have reached something I like to call "nobody knows anything." And in that environment I will now predict tomorrow's game.
I feel like we just have to win. I know it might be the rustiest first half since rust was invented, but still, this is a Minnesota team we should beat fairly soundly. They'll likely finish something like 6-14 in the Big Ten, and we can't be one of those 6. Even after a long Covid pause, we just can't lose to Minnesota.
Let me see where KenPom has this game. 72-67 Illinois. And Vegas? Looks like the early lines say Illinois -7. We should win this game.
While I was on the KenPom page, I looked through Minnesota's stats. Did we know that they're dead last (358th out of 358 teams) in offensive rebounding percentage? There's "get back on defense", and then there's "as soon as the shot goes up, everyone sprint to the other end." Let me look up Illinois real quick - YEP. 2nd nationally in offensive rebound percentage. I can't imagine there are many games where the teams are nearly first and last in the same statistical category.
Here's the percentages:
The Gophers rebound 16.9% of their misses
The Illini rebound 41.6%
So yeah, watch the glass tomorrow night. Oh, and also watch turnovers. Found another one:
The Gophers turn the ball over on 14.4% of their possessions. That's 14th out of 358 teams.
The Illini turn the ball over on 21.8% of offensive possessions. That's 302nd nationally.
There's the game. Minnesota shoots and then gets back so Kofi should get 21 defensive boards. But Minnesota is very careful with the ball and Illinois is not. So the Minnesota game plan will be "find one good shot and then get back and try to force a turnover."
Holy crap I found another 358 on Minnesota's KenPom page. They're also dead last nationally in bench minutes. Now I need to look up their minutes.
Hoh-lee-crap. EJ Stephens plays 33.5 minutes per game and he's FOURTH on the team in minutes. They also have someone playing 34.0 minutes a game and then one guy with 36.0 minutes per game and another with 37.3 minutes per game. Their five starters play 168.9 of their 200 minutes. I'm not sure I've even heard of such a thing. Now I need to look through KenPom history. I won't use last year (Covid kept some rotations very tight at times), but going back before that....
From 2016 to 2020, there are only three teams - 2016 Hofstra, 2019 Hartford, and 2020 Hofstra - who played their starters more than Minnesota's current "85.1% of available minutes." That's remarkable.
OK, THAT'S the story of this game. Make them work for it and then beat them when their starters legs go to jelly with eight minutes to go. As I've always said, if fatigue wasn't a thing, every team would just play all of their starters for 40 minutes. So make them work (or just get, like, one guy in foul trouble) and they'll likely crumble.
That's what I needed to feel confident. They're holding it together with duct tape and bailing wire. Tomorrow night, they hang for a while and then we go on a 24-11 run in the final eight mintues to salt the game away.
Illinois 79, Minnesota 70