College Hoops Tuesday: Your Commentary

December 27th, 2010
The Kohl Center should be rocking for the Big Ten opener between Wisconsin (10-2) and border rival Minnesota (11-1), a game that could hold even more importance come March for resume reasons. Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers have an in-season tournament title (Puerto Rico Tipoff) to their credit already, a run that includes likely valuable wins over North Carolina and West Virginia. Wisconsin, on the other hand, may not have a better win than their wins over Boston College (Old Spice Classic) and at Marquette although their most impressive showing thus far was a 39-point whipping of NC State (that game loses its luster as the Wolfpack stumble their way through the remainder of non-conference play). But computer numbers aren't as good of an indicator as head-to-head play, meaning that Tuesday's matchup will tell us quite a bit about both teams.

The Golden Gophers have also had to manage their rotation for much of the season, from Devoe Joseph's suspension to Al Nolen's injury, and they've done a good job of winning games despite the issues. A major factor in Minnesota's success is their deep frontcourt, boasting returnees Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III along with newcomers Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams. While their rebounding margin of +5.7 is solid, Minnesota has a quartet of players who are a physical equal to just about any team they take on (and that's to be conservative). Mbakwe, who very nearly ended up at Memphis this summer when there was fear that he'd never suit up for Minnesota, is averaging 13.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game to lead the way and has a pro-ready physique right now. As a team the Golden Gophers rebound 39% of their misses, and those extra opportunities can result in Blake Hoffarber (13.9 ppg, 39.1% 3PT) threes is opponents aren't careful.

In looking at the Badgers offensively it should come as no surprise that they're averaging more than ten possessions per game less than Minnesota (70.4-59.5) on the season, but that doesn't mean that Bo Ryan's team lacks offensive firepower. Forward Jon Leuer (19.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is one of the Big Ten's best frontcourt players, possessing the ability to go to work with either his back to the basket of via the face-up game. Leuer shoots a shade under 51% from the field and makes half of his three-point attempts, and his cashes in when sent to the foul line as well (79.2%). While Minnesota may have seen more "household" names when taking on North Carolina (thanks to high school All America teams) they haven't seen a player better than Leuer this season. The "yin" to Jon's "yang" offensively would have to be point guard Jordan Taylor, who averages 15.4 points per game while handing out 4.8 assists per game (turning it over just 1.8 times per game). Add in players like Keaton Nankivil, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz (just to name three) and you've got a group that's more than capable of winning a Big Ten title.

Comparing the offensive efficiency of both teams Wisconsin is the more efficient team (120.2-109.5) while also doing the better job defensively (90.9 opposition efficiency to 96.8 for Minnesota opponents). But judging by the percentages of their opponents (Wisconsin's opponents shoot 38.8% from the field to Minnesota's 39.0%) one could argue that the efficiency discrepancy is just as much about tempo as it is performance. So keep an eye on tempo as well as offensive rebounding as this game wears on. There's nothing more disheartening than defending a team for 30 seconds and force a missed shot, only to have them grab the ball and run another 30 seconds off the clock. Both teams are in the 39% range when it comes to offensive rebounding but the Badgers do a better job of keeping their opponents off of the offensive boards (72% defensive rebounding percentage). And with Wisconsin being close to unbeatable at home Minnesota will need every extra possession they can get.

In other action Tuesday try to fit in an afternoon nap in order to stay up for the nightcap in the Big West. In a rematch of last year's Big West Tournament final Long Beach State visits defending league champion (and preseason favorite) UCSB. The Gauchos, who have a win at UNLV to their credit this season, are led by the nation's top-scoring tandem in James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson. Long Beach State has played one of the nation's toughest schedules and has five players scoring in double figures with Casper Ware (14.6 ppg) and T.J. Robinson (14.5) leading the way. Three more Big East games are on the schedule, including Providence visiting Syracuse in a game that will test their defensive improvement and Seton Hall hosting a USF team that may be weary from having to bus from Washington, D.C. to Newark thanks to the snowstorm. Same goes for North Carolina, who will fly up to New York City Tuesday morning in hopes of getting in town with enough time to spare before taking on Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.

Top 25
9:00 PM Providence at (5) Syracuse (ESPNU)
2:00 PM (11) Purdue at Michigan (BTN)
7:00 PM Coppin State at (12) Kentucky (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (13) Minnesota at (24) Wisconsin (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
4:00 PM Alabama A&M at North Carolina State
7:00 PM Rider at Howard
7:00 PM Fairfield at Florida (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at Georgia (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Siena at St. Bonaventure
7:00 PM Binghamton at Marshall
7:00 PM DePaul at Cincinnati (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Niagara at Drexel
7:00 PM Union (KY) College at Liberty
7:00 PM Bucknell at Loyola (MD)
7:00 PM Kent State at Morehead State
7:00 PM Western Carolina at UNC Asheville
7:00 PM South Florida at Seton Hall (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Albany at Xavier
7:00 PM Long Island at NJIT
7:05 PM Saint Joseph's at Holy Cross
8:00 PM Midland Lutheran at South Dakota
8:00 PM Panhandle State at North Texas
8:00 PM Brescia at Austin Peay
8:00 PM Oakland at Centenary
8:00 PM Chicago State at TCU
8:05 PM North Dakota State at UMKC
8:05 PM IPFW at Oral Roberts
8:05 PM Central Baptist College at Arkansas State
8:05 PM Ball State at Valparaiso
9:00 PM North Carolina vs. Rutgers* (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Pepperdine at Alabama (ESPN3)
9:00 PM West New Mexico at UTEP
9:00 PM Kennesaw State at Wyoming
9:00 PM Florida International at Utah Valley
10:00 PM Yale at Stanford
10:00 PM UC Riverside at UC Irvine
10:00 PM Colorado State at San Francisco
10:05 PM UC Davis at Cal State Fullerton
10:05 PM Pacific at Cal State Northridge
10:30 PM Hartford at California
11:00 PM Sam Houston State vs. Air Force*
11:00 PM Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara (ESPNU)