Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
After a pair of Big Ten home games, #19 Minnesota (13-1, 1-1) hits the road to take on Iowa (11-4, 1-1). In a Big Ten deeper than it has been in years, the Hawkeyes need to hold serve at home Thursday night, or they may find themselves left behind. Minnesota must prove to the college basketball world that it can win in a hostile environment; they have only played another team at its home court once, and barely snuck by Colorado State. Iowa is not the class of the Big Ten by any standard, but will be a sterner test then the Rams were. Minnesota has a favorable schedule as they face Purdue and Michigan State in the Barn, but Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan are no pushovers.
The visiting team has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season so far. Tubby Smith has the ship righted in only his second year. Leading his team is Lawrence Westbrook. Westbrook quietly nets around 13 points a game, rarely scoring much more or less than that. Perhaps the most unheralded point guard in the country is Al Nolen. He dumps in around 8 points a game, gets 6 assists and is the team’s second leading rebounder. He also boasts a 3.7/1 assist to turnover ratio. Blake Hoffarber is well known for his shooting heroics in last season’s Big Ten Tournament, and has carried that over to this year, where he has become one of the top marksmen in the conference. Young guns Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III man the post. Height deficiency was Minnesota’s most pressing predicament prior to the season. Iverson and Sampson III have helped patch that glaring hole. Damian Johnson had one of his best performances of the year against Ohio State, however he was non-existent against Michigan State. Which Johnson shows up will play a big role in the outcome of the Iowa game. The principle of strength in numbers applies to the Gophers, who have 11 guys averaging double digit minutes. If they can wear the Hawkeyes down, they will win.
Iowa is yearning for a win to hang their hat in come March. And while their prospects of breaking out the dancing shoes aren’t off the charts, this win would be a nice game to start the turnaround. Hometown product Matt Gatens is a great shooter. Over 50% from threes, and only missing one free throw on the season, Gatens needs to find his shot. If he gets hot, watch out. Anthony Tucker, Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson round out the teams leading scorers, and that’s not good. None of them are big guys, and while Minnesota is not a rebounding machine, Iowa is one of the few teams who is always at a disadvantage in the frontcourt. 6-8 Cyrus Tate is the only true forward on the team, and with Minnesota’s depth, that is a potential downfall in this game for the Hawkeyes. Iowa will have to out-quick Minnesota to win this game, because Tate is not going to be able to hold the dogs off for 40 minutes. If Iowa wants a shot in this one, they have to neutralize Minnesota’s size advantage, rely on Gatens, Tucker and Peterson to work the perimeter and hit their long balls and involve 6-4 Jermain Davis and 6-6 Andrew Fuller. Davis and Fuller are not your typical tall guys, but Todd Lickliter has to make do with what he has.
Minnesota’s depth prevails over Iowa’s home court. However, don’t expect the Hawkeyes to just lie down and take a beating. The Gophers are the favorites, but if they don’t come ready to play, Iowa wins this ball game.
Winner: Minnesota Margin: 5-8 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.