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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, March 10, 2017 at 5:00 PM

The Big 10 has come under a lot of fire this season for mediocre basketball. But, two teams who appear to be peaking at the right time will meet Saturday in the semifinals in Washington, DC. If the nation’s sports media and statheads only focused on the second half of conference seasons, everyone would be RAVING about Michigan and Minnesota!

Both are in the Final Four of the Big 10 tournament…and either could make big headlines next week in the Dance. Let’s start our preview of this showcase semifinal with a quick review of Friday’s boxscore statistics…

 

Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (in overtime)

2-point Shooting: Michigan 54%, Purdue 48%

Three Pointers: Michigan 6/25, Purdue 8/19

Free Throws: Michigan 18/23, Purdue 6/13

Rebounds: Michigan 38, Purdue 37

Turnovers: Michigan 13, Purdue 15

Phantom Score: Michigan 76, Purdue 77

Phantom Score is a handy stat that estimates what a final score “should” have been based on key fundamentals that loom large in tournament basketball. It’s simply the sum of two-point scoring plus total rebounds. You can see here that we have a nailbiter in that stat which almost matches the scoreboard exactly.

Michigan definitely has the feel of a “team on a mission” this far this weekend. After the tarmac drama two days ago, the Wolverines crushed Illinois in their practice uniforms, then took out the top seed by winning almost every stat that mattered. If they hadn’t been ice cold from long range, this might have been a relative laugher. Michigan shot better inside the arc, was +12 from the free throw line while eking out advantages in rebounds and turnovers. Since all that happened on a neutral court vs. the Big 10’s top seed…that’s great stuff!

They can’t take anything for granted. But, the late season surge followed by this great start in Washington, DC certainly has vaulted Michigan up to the “teams that matter” category.

 

Minnesota 63, Michigan State 58

2-point Shooting: Michigan State 46%, Minnesota 44%

Three Pointers: Michigan State 6/30, Minnesota 4/12

Free Throws: Michigan State 14/20, Minnesota 17/23

Rebounds: Michigan State 41, Minnesota 36

Turnovers: Michigan State 12, Minnesota 9

Phantom Score: Michigan State 67, Minnesota 70

Horrible day from long range for Sparty. The Michigan schools sure didn’t like the shooting backdrop in the early session! You can see that was the difference-maker on the scoreboard. Minnesota forced it inside and didn’t particularly thrive. Michigan State had way too may “virtual turnovers” on missed treys. Note that Phantom Score was close to the margin, but projected a higher scoring game. That combined 10 of 42 mark on three-pointers kept this from being more of a shootout.

 

Current Rankings

Michigan is #23 at Kenpom, #27 at Sagarin, projected for a #9 seed

Minnesota is #33 at Kenpom, #33 at Sagarin, projected for a #6 seed

Michigan is doing well in the computers lately, while Joe Lunardi of ESPN (and his sources on the selection committee) has been slow to catch on. It would be a crime if Michigan was stuck with a #8 or #9 seed given that they’ve been knocking on the door of “Sweet 16 caliber” for several weeks now. Very unfair to make a #1 seed run into this buzzsaw in the second round of the Dance! Minnesota is currently projected to have a better seed in the NCAA brackets even though they’re 5-10 spots worse in the most respected college hoop computers.

 

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

Michigan: 121.0 per 100 possessions (#6 in the nation)

Minnesota: 109.2 per 100 possessions (#84 in the nation)

As we’ve mentioned often in recent years, Michigan is much better on offense than is realized. They play many low scoring games because of a slow pace. But, they’re very efficient on a per-possession basis at that pace. Our numbers come from Ken Pomeroy’s great analytics site. Pomeroy adjusts offensive production for pace and schedule strength. Michigan is truly elite after you make those adjustments.

Big edge on this side of the floor for the Wolverines, as their opponent has been winning with defense rather than offense. Minnesota must try to win physical battles with this collection of talent. The Gophers needed Michigan State to shoot poorly from long range to win Friday.

 

Adjusted Defensive Efficiency

Michigan: 99.4 per 100 possessions (#71 in the nation)

Minnesota: 92.6 per 100 possessions (#15 in the nation)

The other wide of the Wolverines’ coin is that their defense isn’t as good as everyone thinks. Slow pace creates scoreboard illusions here as well. They have improved lately (similar to UCLA in that regard), but still have work to do to truly be a threat to go deep in the Dance. And, the other side of this matchup is “defense wins championships!” That gives Minnesota a chance to win a wrestling match.

 

Pace Ranking

Michigan: #288

Minnesota: #100

Usually the “bad offense/good defense” teams are slow plodders. Here, Minnesota pushes tempo but still can’t figure out how to score at a Dance caliber level. Very interesting game to handicap, Because the tempo is a bit counter-intuitive to the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Really think this one through! If Michigan slows things way down, Minnesota’s defense won’t be freaked out. If Minnesota speeds things up, the Gophers may not be able to score consistently anyway. In a nutshell…you see why these teams can surge in a mediocre league, but might be in over their heads down the road vs. true national powers.  

 

Against the Spread

Michigan: 14-16

Minnesota: 19-11

Michigan’s been a money-maker of late. But, early season woes kept them from profiting for backers before then. They were a big disappointment until getting things figured out. Are they underrated now? That’s the call you have to make. Minnesota’s Gophers have been truly golden, cashing at a 63% rate this season.

As we go to press, it’s impossible to know if this game will be part of the Saturday package. There are great semifinal and final matchups all over the card. JIM HURLEY won’t force plays in network TV games! You can purchase the final word for Saturday right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about this weekend or extended service, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155 Saturday morning before the action gets started.

Championship Weekend is one of the biggest thrills of the entire calendar year. Be sure you get all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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