Michigan's 3 keys vs. Minnesota 

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
12:03
AM ET
The No. 16 Michigan basketball team opened its Big Ten season with a convincing 71-53 win over Penn State, a team in transitional due to the loss of guard Talor Battle to graduation and coach Ed DeChellis to the Navy head coaching job.

Now, the Wolverines will welcome Minnesota to Crisler Arena. The Gophers are also slightly depleted after losing senior forward Trevor Mbakwe to injury in November. Last season, Mbakwe was the Big Ten’s leading rebounder and before his injury he had been averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game.

The last time Minnesota came to Ann Arbor, the Gophers left with a 69-64 victory. And last week, Michigan coach John Beilein said he had been surprised with how poorly his team had played against Minnesota that time around.

There are some lose ends to tie up with the Gophers and Michigan is very serious about winning its home games this season. But in order to do that, here are three keys for the Wolverines.

  1. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and sophomore Evan Smotrycz can’t get into foul trouble. With Smotrycz now as the backup at five and Morgan starting, the Wolverines can’t afford to get into foul trouble down low. Yes, the Gophers don’t have Mbakwe, but junior forward Rodney Williams and senior center Ralph Sampson III are serviceable in the paint and if it comes down to a junior Blake McLimans matchup with either, it might get ugly for Michigan.
  2. Switch up between the 1-3-1 zone defense and man-to-man. The Gophers don’t have too many strong outside scoring threats, so if the Wolverines can throw out the 1-3-1 zone defense a bit to keep the tempo changing, Minnesota will be forced into reacting to what Michigan gives it. The only downside with the zone is that it puts players like Smotrycz and Morgan in a greater position to foul because of help defense and a greater area of coverage. But, if Beilein uses the 1-3-1 sparingly, it could be a good tool to force turnovers and get easy transition buckets.
  3. Share the ball to get balanced scoring. There will be games where sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. needs to score 20-plus points in order for the Wolverines to win. This is not one of them. Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said what made Michigan so difficult to defend was the number of options the Wolverines had for scoring. If Michigan shares the ball and gets double digits out of (at least) four of its players, the Wolverines put themselves in good position to put this one away early.

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