It’s a consensus: Minnesota is really good

011112eIf you asked college basketball experts before the season about Minnesota, some may have predicted the Gophers would improve. Getting a player like Trevor Mbakwe back can do that for a team. But few would have believed they could be a top 10 team and a legitimate Big Ten title contender, especially this early in the season.

But Indiana coach Tom Crean isn’t surprised that Minnesota has risen all the way to No. 8 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll. He actually cited the Gophers prior to the season as a team to watch this year.

“But not like I’m a prophet, you could just tell,” Crean said Friday. “Trevor’s just too good. Trevor Mbakwe is too good a player.”

As Crean and the Indiana players met with the media on Friday afternoon, it was clear they have a great respect for a Minnesota club that enters Saturday’s game riding an 11-game winning streak.

The game between the two games from last year at Assembly Hall was being played in the Indiana locker room on Friday.

“It’s gonna be one of the toughest games we’ve had all year,” sophomore Cody Zeller said. “They’ve already proved themselves. They’re a very tough team. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

“They’ve gotten a lot better,” junior Victor Oladipo added. “Andre Hollins is doing a great job. They’re all capable of scoring and scoring at a high level.”

While the Gophers (15-1, 3-0) have improved across the board, they have benefited greatly by the return of Mbakwe, who missed most of last season after suffering a torn ACL. Mbakwe is a sixth-year senior who Crean recruited and coached when both were at Marquette.

Mbakwe’s numbers are down a bit — he’s averaging 9.3 points and 7.9 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game — but Crean has seen considerable improvement in the veteran’s game.

“He’s really patient in the post. We’ve really seen that this year,” Crean said. “He’s a difference maker, and we knew that in high school. He’s got a real maturity on the court that’s there with his patience. He’s playing extremely hard and adding things to his game, especially with the pick and roll game. But he has always been a very tough-minded, physical player, and now he’s just that much more so after the year off. … He’s as hard a matchup as there is in the league.”

Mbakwe’s physicality and athleticism are a big reason why Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebounding. The Gophers got several huge offensive boards in their win at Assembly Hall a year ago, and they’ve done the same thing time and again through the first 16 games.

When asked about the Gophers’ work on the glass, Zeller and Crean used the same word: “relentless.”

“They’re relentless, they’re very, very aggressive,” Crean said. “They do it off transition, they do it off the regular half-court offense, and then they are incredible off the free-throw line. We’ve just got to be locked in full tilt to all those aspects. If you don’t meet them first, they’re gonna push you under out of bounds. It is a complete fist fight when the shot goes up when they’re playing.”

Injury update

· Crean said Maurice Creek (foot) participated in practice for the first time on Friday, but he did not do any contact drills and he has not been cleared to play. Crean said Creek will likely be back next week, though he said Tuesday’s game against Wisconsin is likely a long shot.

· Derek Elston, who missed Monday’s game at Penn State, is feeling better and is expected to play on Saturday, according to Crean.

  • SCHoosier

    All true about the Gophers..they are much improved and a tough test. But sometimes we forget what Tubby and gang have to worry about in coming to A-Hall. IU plays with pride and passion..they must deal with the Hoosier transition game and Zeller..who if Crean has the right game plan..should get Mbakwe in foul trouble early and guarantee his bench time. My biggest worry is hitting the boards..gonna be a gang fight we have to win.

  • WatchingYogi_atYogis

    To that end, I wouldn’t think we will see much (if any) zone defense. Have to get a body on everybody. Which means, no place to hide our matchups. We could really use solid minutes off the bench from guys like Remy, Sheehey and even Hollowell.

    On the other end, I think Christian Watford is the real key. (Both ends really, since we need him to come up big defensively, rebounding and manning an athletic big.) But on offense, if he can get that game going he had against Penn State, knock down some threes to stretch the defense, and then drive off of that threat, he will do some real nice things for us. He will help on the offensive glass, where I think we have an opportunity to get some second chances of our own to counter theirs. He will also help get them into some foul trouble, which as you alluded to could be key.

  • WatchingYogi_atYogis

    To that end, I wouldn’t think we will see much (if any) zone defense. Have to get a body on everybody. Which means, no place to hide our matchups. We could really use solid minutes off the bench from guys like Remy, Sheehey and even Hollowell.

    On the other end, I think Christian Watford is the real key. (Both ends really, since we need him to come up big defensively, rebounding and manning an athletic big.) But on offense, if he can get that game going he had against Penn State, knock down some threes to stretch the defense, and then drive off of that threat, he will do some real nice things for us. He will help on the offensive glass, where I think we have an opportunity to get some second chances of our own to counter theirs. He will also help get them into some foul trouble, which as you alluded to could be key.

  • SCHoosier

    agree..a zone defense sets u up to get your clock cleaned on offensive rebounds..so unless there is major foul trouble for IU..we’ll have to live with man to man match ups.

  • SCHoosier

    agree..a zone defense sets u up to get your clock cleaned on offensive rebounds..so unless there is major foul trouble for IU..we’ll have to live with man to man match ups.

  • MK54

    Any visiting team has to be concerned about Big Ten officials calling a fair game. Indiana’s home court advantage runs deep as the large, raucous crowd often influences what the officials see and sometimes more importantly, what they choose to ignore.

  • hoosier1158

    IU never gets any calls at home…

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