Minnesota continued a fine season this past Sunday in thumping Iowa, 69-59, for its third win in four games. A true team effort was led by Trevor Mbakwe's Big Ten-leading 11th double-double of the season and Ralph Sampson III set a new career high with seven blocks. The junior Mbakwe paced the Gophers with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while the 6-11 Sampson stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists to add to his own personal block party. Minnesota held the Hawkeyes to 37.3 percent shooting from the floor, won the battle of the boards by a 42-32 count and drained 27-of-37 at the free throw line. Iowa attempted just 11 foul shots. Al Nolen added 13 points and eight boards to the win.
Michigan's recent struggles continued Tuesday at Northwestern, resulting in a fifth consecutive loss. The Wildcats raced out to a 13-point lead at halftime after burying eight three-pointers in the opening period and led by as many as 22 points in the second half before settling on a 74-60 final. NU hit 10-of-24 overall from three-point range and shot 48.2 percent from the floor. Michigan managed to shoot just 39.7 percent from the field and was led by Stu Douglass' 17 points. Darius Morris scored 16 to reach double-figures for the 14th time this season as the Wolverines fell to a disappointing 1-5 in conference play.
Minnesota has dropped the last four games to the Wolverines. The last Gopher win in the series came back on February 21, 2008 at Williams Arena in head coach Tubby Smith's first year at the helm. The Gophers swept the season series that year, including their last win in Ann Arbor.
The Golden Gophers can beat teams in a number of ways with a balanced unit that features four double-figure scoring threats. Senior Blake Hoffarber leads the way with 13.8 points per game and Mbakwe posts 13.2 points and a team- leading 10.4 rebounds per contest. Devoe Joseph averages 11.2 points and Sampson adds 10.4 per game to go with 5.5 rebounds and a team-high 41 blocks. Nolen provides further depth with a 9.1-point per-game average, contributing to a healthy 73.2 points per game overall for the Gophers. Minnesota shoots 46.1 percent from the field and 33.0 percent on threes. Hoffarber tops the roster with 48 triples and shoots 39.7 percent from beyond. The Golden Gopher defense is also a source of pride, with teams shooting just 39.1 percent from the field and averaging 67.4 points. Minnesota owns a plus-5.4 margin in the rebounding department, averaging nearly 40.0 per game (39.8-34.4).
The Wolverines are led by Morris' 15.7-point average and 7.1 assists per game, good for second best in the Big Ten Conference. Tim Hardaway Jr. puts in 11.1 points per game to serve as Michigan's only other double-digit scorer. Zack Novak does provide a solid third option, though, checking in at 9.2 points while pacing the club in rebounding at 6.5 per. Jordan Morgan can also make his presence felt with 8.3 points and 6.1 rebounds while topping the roster with a 57.6 field-goal percentage. Overall, it's been a bit of a struggle for Michigan to light up the scoreboard. The Wolverines shot 43.3 percent from the floor and average 66.5 points. opponents counter with a 41.8-percent accuracy on field goals and 62.3 points per game. Michigan holds down the slimmest of edges on the glass (34.5-33.8).
Things don't figure to get any easier for the Wolverines on Saturday, as Minnesota looks to roll through another tough Big Ten foe after big wins over Purdue and Iowa to follow a crushing three-point setback to current No. 1 Ohio State. The Gophers are just too deep and too talented to let this one slip away, even in Ann Arbor.