Michigan at Gophers: 5 things to watch for

by Jace Frederick

It's finally here. The Gophers have reached the Big Ten season. Their first task … a tall one. Minnesota takes on the defending national runner-up in the Michigan Wolverines. 

Though this Michigan squad is without guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr (NBA) and big man Mitch McGary (injury), the Wolverines still feature plenty of talent and will provide a stiff test.

Here are my 5 things to watch for:

Is Minnesota ready?: The Gophers haven't played a top-level opponent since they defeated Florida State on Dec. 3. Since then they've played just four games against a lot of teams you probably can't name the mascot of. Is Minnesota ready to jump back into the ultra-competitive Big Ten?

Defending GRIII: The Gophers held Michigan forward Glen Robinson III to just nine points in Minnesota's 83-75 loss to the Wolverines last January, but this GRIII is a different beast. The sophomore forward has taken on a larger role — he's scored in double digits in 10 of Michigan's 12 contests. It will be interesting to see who Gophers head coach Richard Pitino attempts to throw at him to slow him down.

Austin Hollins: In last year's loss to Michigan, Hollins had a day. He finished with 21 points and four steals. This year's Austin Hollins is bigger and better, and fully capable of pushing the Gophers to Big Ten success. That starts tonight.

Pace of play: A lot has been made of Pitino's up-tempo system and its potential success in conference play since he took the Gophers job in April. Well the style worked in nonconference, and Michigan generally likes to push the ball as well. The better question tonight might be, can the Gophers run with Michigan? They couldn't last season, and that was the difference.

Elliot Eliason: It would have been fun to watch the Big Easy battle with McGary tonight, but with Michigan's star center out with injury, Eliason has an opportunity to impose his will. In his major test early this season against Syracuse, Eliason stood tall. Minnesota needs similar performances in conference play from the big Nebraskan.