(From The Sports Network)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 26th, 4:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Williams Arena (14,625) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Michigan 13-5, Minnesota 11-4. Away Record: Michigan 4-5, Minnesota 3-6. Neutral Record: Michigan 0-2, Minnesota 3-0. Conference Record: Michigan 7-9, Minnesota 6-9. Series Record: Michigan leads, 82-65.
GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers play host to the Michigan Wolverines Saturday at Williams Arena in a Big Ten Conference bout between a pair of teams clinging to fading hopes of an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Minnesota's late-season slide continued Tuesday with a 53-48 defeat to Michigan State in East Lansing. It served as the Golden Gophers' sixth loss in seven games for the once ranked club. Minnesota was up 47-39 with a little more than four minutes to play but saw the Spartans claw back to take a 50-48 lead on two free throws with 27 seconds left. A three-point try by Chip Armelin on the Gophers' final possession was off the mark. Senior Trevor Mbakwe notched his conference-leading 16th double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Armelin finished with 12 points. Both teams struggled to find their respective shots, as the hosting Spartans converted on 36.7 percent of their field goals compared to the Gophers' 37.5-percent clip.
Michigan's hopes of a spot in the Big Dance may have been dashed Wednesday, as Wisconsin freshman Josh Gasser banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the 12th-ranked Badgers to a dramatic 53-52 win in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines had won four of five coming in and led a close game throughout by one at the break after dropping in 66.7 percent of their field goals in the first half. Both teams found the shots weren't falling as easy in the final period as Michigan tried in vain to hold its 52-50 lead for more than a minute before Gasser's fateful shot out of a timeout. Tim Hardaway Jr. paced the Wolverine offense with 16 points and Jordan Morgan netted 12 points.
The Gophers defeated Michigan, 69-64, on January 22 in Ann Arbor to halt a four-game skid in the series. Minnesota's last win at Williams Arena against the Wolverines came back on February 21, 2008. Michigan has won seven of the last 10 overall and three of four in Minneapolis.
The Wolverines are led by Morris' 15.1-point average and 6.9 assists per game, the latter total standing fourth in the country. Hardaway Jr. puts in 13.3 points per game to serve as Michigan's only other double-digit scorer. Morgan does provide a solid third option, though, checking in at 9.6 points while adding 5.6 rebounds per game and topping the roster with a 63.2 field-goal percentage. Zack Novak also makes his presence felt with 8.7 points and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds. Overall, the Wolverines don't exactly light up the scoreboard but manage 66.2 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting. opponents counter with a 43.1-percent accuracy on field goals and 62.8 points per game. Michigan gives up a full rebound to the opposition on the glass (33.3-32.3).
The Golden Gophers have fallen on hard times over the last month with its lone win in that span against Iowa. Minnesota still features a strong and balanced unit that boasts three double-figure scoring threats and a stingy defense. The senior duo of Blake Hoffarber and Mbakwe lead the way with identical 13.7- points average. Mbakwe adds a Big Ten-best 10.4 rebounds per contest and Hoffarber totals a team-high 70 three-pointers on 39.3 percent shooting. Ralph Sampson III checks in at 10.6 points per game to go with 5.6 rebounds and 56 blocks. However, the Gophers took a pair of hits upon losing their third leading-scorer in Devoe Joseph (personal) and fifth-ranked scorer Al Nolen (foot surgery). Minnesota still posts a healthy 70.0 points per game overall and shoots 45.9 percent from the field. The Golden Gopher defense is a source of pride, with teams shooting just 39.5 percent from the field and averaging 66.6 points. Minnesota owns a plus-5.4 margin in the rebounding department, averaging 38.6 per game to the competition's 33.2.
Michigan has had some heart-breakers this season that surely would have punched its ticket to the tourney, including back-to-back losses to Kansas in overtime and a four-point setback to Ohio State. The Wolverines have showed grit in bouncing back from what was a larger six-game skid that included those losses, winning six of nine since. Meanwhile, Minnesota seems to finally be feeling the effects of losing two of its better players and is plummeting down the league standings.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 66, Minnesota 60