Hoosiers set to face struggling Gophers
By Andy Proffet Post-Tribune correspondent February 25, 2013 11:14PM
Updated: March 27, 2013 6:29AM
BLOOMINGTON — Heading into the first matchup between Minnesota and Indiana this season, both teams were ranked in the Top 10 and boasted potent offenses.
Things have changed in the six weeks since.
While the Hoosiers have kept rolling, vaulting from fifth in the polls back to No. 1, The Golden Gophers have struggled. They lost to IU 88-81 on Jan. 12, the start of a four-game losing streak.
Minnesota (18-9, 6-8 Big Ten) has lost eight of 11 games, and points have been hard to come by. Since a 62-59 win over Iowa on Feb. 3, the Gophers haven’t scored more than 58 points in any of the five games since.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said he hadn’t noticed that particular statistic.
“I didn’t even know that about the points, and we look at a lot of different numbers,” Crean said during Monday’s Big Ten coaches’ conference call. “We always focus on the games they’ve played the best in. And we’re focused on how they played us, and the pressure that they brought against us and the movement that they have, because that’s what we feel like we’re going to see.”
The Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) jumped out to a 52-29 halftime lead in the first game with Minnesota, shooting 21-of-32 from the field in the first half. But the Gophers battled back by harassing IU into 6-of-21 shooting in the second half.
Key to Indiana’s win was the Hoosiers’ free-throw shooting in the second half — IU was 23-of-36 from the line. IU leads the nation with 531 made free throws.
Free throws were a factor in IU’s win last season at Minnesota as well, with the Hoosiers going 21-of-25 from the line in a 69-50 victory.
Of course, if the Gophers play the way they have the last two games, free throws may not be as much a factor. Minnesota has lost by 21 and 26 points, respectively, in its last two games, although both were on the road.
Still, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said his team was “in a bit of a quandary the way we’ve lost the last two games.”
Austin Hollins has been Minnesota’s most consistent scorer; he’s scored in double figures in four straight games. But Crean says Indiana’s focus has to be on Trevor Mbakwe, the Big Ten’s top rebounder.
“I think you can’t just judge a guy on his numbers, on his points, on his free-throw attempts, you’ve got to look at the impact he’s playing with,” Crean said. “He’s playing tremendous defense, he causes havoc in the lane. … To me, you’ve got to center your game plan on how you’re going to stop him.”
The Gophers likely feel the same way about Victor Oladipo, the Big Ten Player of the Week whose six-point outburst in the final minute last Tuesday helped the Hoosiers defeat Michigan State.
Crean said the Hoosiers were careful with Oladipo, who sprained his ankle in the Purdue game before Michigan State. He’s expected to play tonight.