The Michigan men’s basketball team may be rebuilding this season, but there’s no squad in the Big Ten that has reconstructed its starting lineup as much as No. 15 Minnesota.
Of the Gophers’ five expected starters, just two have started all 18 games for Minnesota (3-3 Big Ten, 14-4 overall) this season. In fact, nine of the Gophers have started at least once this season. Conversely, the Wolverines’ five starters have remained constant since day one.
First, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith sat junior Devoe Joseph for the first six games of the season as a punishment for violation of team rules. Just eight games and four starts later, Joseph transferred.
Senior guard Al Nolen sat out five games with a foot injury while redshirt junior Trevor Mbakwe sat out two starts after violating a restraining order. The forward is awaiting his court date on Feb. 7, and he faces up to 90 days in jail.
But even with the shift in starting lineups, Minnesota has had its fair share of success in conference play. Last Thursday, the Gophers upset No. 14 Purdue, 69-59, at Williams Arena.
And now Minnesota hits the road tomorrow to face a Michigan squad that’s in the midst of a five-game losing skid.
The Wolverines (1-5, 11-8) are coming off a tough road loss to Northwestern where Michigan allowed junior John Shurna to put up 24 points — 22 in the first half alone — off 8-of-14 shooting from the field.
“Everyone’s frustrated, it’s tough,” junior Stu Douglass said after the Northwestern game. “You can talk all day about the (tough) games you’ve had, the tough stretch the last nines days, whatever. But we haven’t been winning and we haven’t been performing the way we can and the way we should, so it’s not the best of moods.”
But the schedule doesn’t get any easier with Minnesota. Michigan can expect the same kind of hot shooting and experienced play out of Gopher senior Blake Hoffarber, who shoots nearly 40 percent from behind the arc.
And when the Wolverines aren’t focused on Minnesota’s outside shooting, redshirt junior Trevor Mbakwe will be a handful in the post. Mbakwe has been touted as one of the league’s toughest big men and averages 13.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.
In the teams’ last four meetings, Michigan has come away with all four wins and three of Minnesota’s four losses this season have come on the road. But if Michigan hopes to steal this win on its tough Big Ten schedule, will have to be running on all cylinders in order to prepare for a very talented Gopher team.
“We’re treating every game like a must win,” junior Zack Novak said Tuesday. “With the way the league is right now, as tough as it is, you need to get every win you can.”
With the loss at Northwestern, Michigan capped a rigorously tight schedule where the Wolverines played four games in a span of nine days, which means each game only allowed for one day of preparation each.
But by Saturday, Michigan will have had three days to prepare for Minnesota, which could prove to be imperative for a young Wolverine team that’s been struggling to stick to its game plan during game time.
“Hopefully this will give us some time to regroup and refocus,” Novak said Tuesday. “Then Saturday (against Minnesota) we can come back and have a better shot.”