Free Pick: Michigan Wolverines vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Michigan Wolverines (23-3 SU, 14-12 ATS) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-9 SU, 13-13 ATS)
When: Thursday, February 21, 2019 – 7 p.m. ET
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -4.5/MINN +4.5
Total: O/U 131.5
Last Time Out: Michigan beat Maryland 65-52; Minnesota beat Indiana 84-63. Intertops closed Minny as 3.5 point favorites.
Scouting the Wolverines:
On one hand, Michigan got a win over Maryland in the most Michigan way possible: the Wolverines played great defense, limited the Terrapins’ shooters and forced them into mistakes. On the other, there’s an underlying cause for concern. Even with Michigan playing its game to perfection on defense, the margin was just 13 points despite the Wolverines winning the turnover battle by a 16-6 count. That suggests that the issues that plagued Michigan against Penn State still aren’t solved yet, and it was more Maryland’s inexperience masking the situation for the Wolverines than it was a great performance for Michigan.
Scouting the Golden Gophers:
Was the win over the Hoosiers the boost that Minnesota needs to get back on track, or a sign of just how far Indiana has fallen since its start? If it’s the former, the Gophers have an excellent shot at getting a win they badly need in this contest. Minnesota nearly pulled off a stunner at Crisler Center on Jan. 22 when it overcame a 10-point deficit to tie the game, only to fall to Charles Matthews’ buzzer-beater. But in that defeat, Minnesota showed that the Wolverines could be beaten if they could defend the 3-pointer and get some offense, and senior Jordan Murphy has provided that as of late, scoring in double figures in four of Minnesota’s past five contests.
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Desperation. Minnesota doesn’t have many more chances to improve its profile before the Big Ten tournament. The Golden Gophers have five games left, and of those, two are land mines in Rutgers and Northwestern and one is a trip to College Park, where Maryland hasn’t lost a Big Ten game all season. So realistically, this game and Purdue are Minnesota’s last chances to pick up a signature win and avoid a must-win situation next month in Chicago. Beating the Wolverines probably gives Minnesota one free mistake on top of a likely loss to Maryland, and that means the Gophers are likely going to play like this game is their season — because there’s a good chance that it is. Michigan has to match that intensity, and that’s not going to be easy to do with Michigan State and a first-place showdown awaiting the Wolverines on Sunday.
Michigan will Cover if:
The Wolverines can limit Jordan Murphy. Amir Coffey is the main scorer for the Gophers, but Murphy is the most important player in this matchup because he averages a double-double with 15 points and nearly 12 rebounds a game. The one weakness in Michigan’s defense is that the Wolverines are very susceptible to a team that can extend their possessions by grabbing the rebounds, and Minnesota can do exactly that as long as Murphy is on the floor. To get a cover here, the Wolverines have to know where Murphy and center Daniel Oturu are whenever a shot is in the air and keep them away from the rebound. If either player is able to clean up the garbage under the basket for easy buckets, Michigan will have a hard time in this one.
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Minnesota will Cover if:
The Golden Gophers take care of the basketball. Maryland might have given a game away to Michigan with turnovers, as it’s debatable whether limiting them would have erased a 13-point deficit, but Minnesota absolutely coughed up a win in Ann Arbor. The Gophers lost the turnover battle by the same margin the Terrapins did, but they ended up with just a two-point loss because they followed the other two legs of the three-legged stool that is beating Michigan: limit the Wolverines’ 3-pointers and win the rebounding battle. The turnovers are the final piece of the puzzle, and if Minnesota can replicate its performance in Ann Arbor without making bad decisions with the ball, not only can the Gophers cover, they can win.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Unlike the Zags/Waves game this one is expected to actually be competitive! The blueprint for beating Michigan is there, and eventually, a good team (read: someone other than Penn State) is going to properly execute it and pull off a victory. But in looking at how the Nittany Lions did it, I see some similarities between them and the Golden Gophers. Penn State rode Lamar Stevens, a 6-8, 230 pound junior, to dominance in the interior. Murphy’s two inches shorter than Stevens, but he’s got 20 more pounds of bulk on his frame.
That and the schedule has me leaning strongly toward Minnesota in this game. Michigan’s big basketball rival will always be Michigan State, and with first place on the line in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are going to have a hard time focusing on the task at hand against a Minnesota squad that has been lousy on the road but excellent at home.
Betting against Michigan isn’t a great way to make money most times, but I think the combination of Minnesota’s personnel, Minnesota’s desperation and Michigan playing Michigan State next week will be too much for the Wolverines to overcome. I’m going to Intertops to get the +5 -115 they currently offer on the Gophers to cover in the Barn… and possibly win it outright.