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Posted on Sat, Dec 31, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

4 things to watch as Michigan basketball team takes on Minnesota

By Nick Baumgardner

A year ago, this game was a low-point for the Michigan basketball team.

After falling by five at home to Minnesota in January, the Wolverines had dropped their sixth straight game, falling to 1-6 in Big Ten play.

Michigan welcomes the Golden Gophers back to Ann Arbor on Sunday (4 p.m., Big Ten Network), but under different circumstances.

The 18th-ranked Wolverines are in search of their seventh consecutive victory, hoping to move to 2-0 in Big Ten play in the process.

Here are four things to watch for Sunday:

1. Feed Hardaway early


Tim Hardaway Jr. propelled the Michigan offense on Thursday.

Angela J. Cesere |

Tim Hardaway Jr. seemed to be in his best groove of the season against an undermanned Penn State team Thursday, going for a season-high 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting.

The Nittany Lions didn't have anyone who could check Hardaway.

Minnesota might not, either.

Feed the sophomore the ball early on and see if he can pick up where he left off. Hardaway attacked the basket with, and without, the ball earlier in the week. If he does so again Sunday, his results could be similar.

If Hardaway seems content on settling for covered 3-point shots, though, Michigan may need to look elsewhere for offense.

2. Attack Sampson

First of all, Michigan can be thankful knowing it won't have to deal with Trevor Mbakwe, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in November.

Also gone up front for Minnesota is 6-foot-10 big man Colton Iverson, who transferred following last season.

So that leaves Ralph Sampson III.

Sampson is skilled and his size can pose a problem, but he's also been slowed by an ankle issue this season. And, frankly, he's all Minnesota has up front. No offense to Rodney Williams, who is being forced to play out of position at the four, but it's true.

And you thought Michigan was thin up front.

If the Wolverines can somehow bait the big man into early foul trouble, the lane should be clutter-free all evening. Sampson's a heady player, though, so this might be easier said than done.

With or without Sampson, Michigan has to do a better job on the glass than it did against the Gophers a year ago, when the Wolverines were out-rebounded, 38-13.

3. Follow your shot

Minnesota entered the weekend as the worst defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, grabbing just 22.6 defensive boards per game.

Those numbers would lead one to believe there's plenty of opportunity for easy putback points.

However, Michigan is the league's worst offensive rebounding squad with 8.6 offensive boards per game.

Statistically speaking, it could be quite the pillow fight down there Sunday.

Something's got to give, though, right?

If you're Michigan, you send at least four to the basket whenever a shot goes up — neither team excels in this area, so whoever works the hardest should get the advantage.

4. Test the bench

Following Thursday's win over Penn State, Michigan coach John Beilein said he really didn't realize how little he used his bench during the lopsided victory.

Let's get this straight: At some point during the Big Ten season, Michigan is going to need more of a bench presence than Stu Douglass and Matt Vogrich.

So, why not find out what you've got in a friendly home environment?

Currently, there's minutes to be had for junior forward Blake McLimans (who logged four against PSU) and either Carlton Brundidge or Eso Akunne (who did not play against PSU).

Michigan's front-loaded right now and, like most teams, doesn't possess a ton of proven depth.

However, Sunday may be the last chance for some time to find out what you have without costing yourself a game.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Sat, Dec 31, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

I didn't realize Michigan was the worst offensive rebounding team in the Big 10, but it figures. Some of these stats will catch up with us in close games. I like Michigan guard play but they are a very imbalanced team with no legitimate center after six years. McGary is a power forward so the center issue will be continue into the future. Teams such as Indiana, OSU, and Michigan State are more balanced teams. They'll be at the top of the Big 10 this year. I still think Beilein's recruiting is the Achilles heal of this team.


Sat, Dec 31, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

His recruiting? What? The McGary class is a top 5 class and this past class was ranked in the top 20. Secondly, at McGary's height he can play center. If you watch basketball you would know that there are very few true centers now days and that the game is more perimeter oriented then ever. With McGary and Morgan UM will have plenty of beef up front. UM has its holes but so does every team. Rebounding is a weakness, but one knew that would be the case when Michigan hired Beilein. His teams are perimeter oriented offensively and defensively. You also do not need a dominion center to be a good rebounding team so your obsession with the center position is misguided. You can have a relatively short lineup and still rebound. Rebounding is as much about position and desire as height and athleticism.


Sat, Dec 31, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

Nicely done, Nick. Can't wait to see what this team can do in the conference this year. Seems coach B. has players that have really bought into his system. Success breeds success...if they can stay healthy and make it to the tourney the future for UM basketball looks bright.