Gophers vs. Indiana: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

It's no secret the Gophers have lost three-straight games.

It's no secret they find themselves firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

And it's no secret Minnesota's recent history includes a flurry of February struggles.

But the last time the Gophers welcomed (then-No. 1) Indiana to the Barn, they came away with a monumental upset.

And while Minnesota is favored this time around, a win on Saturday night could still prove pivotal come March, and would, at least for the time being, shift the season's momentum.

Here are my 5 things to watch for:

Defensive Rebounding: The Gophers were awful on the defensive glass against Purdue.

How bad were they? The Boilermakers hauled in 23 offensive boards, which was undoubtedly the largest cause for the Gophers demise in their 77-74 triple-overtime loss.

Minnesota needs to right the ship with its defensive rebounding, and fast. Because while Purdue is a good offensive-rebounding squad, Indiana is better. The Hoosiers rank seventh in the country in offensive rebounding (Indiana grabs 39.8 percent of its misses), according to KenPom.com

"We need to get more physical," junior center Mo Walker said. "Boxing out is a key thing. Guards have to come back and rebound. Purdue shot a bunch of threes and what not and some of their guards got long rebounds, so our guards have to come back and rebound."

"We've just got to get more aggressive and go get it. It's a mindset really that you're just going to get the ball. You've just got to go hard after it and grab it." 

Forcing TOs: The Gophers are one of the top teams in the nation at stealing the basketball (they sport a 12.3 steal percentage), while Indiana is one of the worst teams in the country at protecting the rock. The Hoosiers have the 21st highest turnover percentage in the country (21.9 percent).

If Minnesota can use its pressure defense to force Indiana into a number close to 15 turnovers, that could be enough to tip the balance in its favor.

Defending Yogi: The Hoosiers handed Michigan its first Big Ten loss on Sunday. And they did so entirely on the back of sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell. 

Ferrell scored 27 points on 7 for 8 shooting from deep. He also played air-tight defense on Michigan guard and Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nik Stauskas, holding him to just six points.

If the Gophers play a majority of man-to-man defense (which I for some strange reason think they will), it will be up to DeAndre Mathieu to lock Ferrell down. Mathieu played some great man on Ronnie Johnson in the latter part of the Purdue loss, but Ferrell is a different beast.

Mathieu has the quickness to keep up with Ferrell, but whether he can contain him for 40 minutes is an entirely different question.

Andre Hollins: Hollins returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday after missing two-straight games — both Minnesota losses — with a left ankle sprain.

Hollins played fairly well, but certainly didn't look 100 percent in the loss to Purdue. He finished with eight points on 3 for 14 shooting in 36 minutes.

Obviously 36 minutes is a lot of run fresh off of an ankle sprain. Pitino said Hollins said he was a little sore on Thursday, so Hollins was limited to only about 20 minutes of practice time.

"We need a healthy Andre Hollins," Pitino said.

That statement becomes more obvious with each game. The question is, will they have a 100-percent healthy Andre Hollins come Saturday night?

Rick Pitino Effect: Remember the last time Gophers head coach Richard Pitino's pops and hall-of-fame head coach Rick Pitino stopped by the Barn to watch Minnesota in action?

The Gophers showed out, beating South Dakota State 75-59 on Dec. 10.

So why does that matter? Because the Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer tweeted that Rick Pitino said on his radio show that a party of about 16 would be traveling to Minneapolis for tonight's game.

Richard Pitino is 1-0 as Gophers head coach with his dad documented in the stands at Williams Arena. That undefeated record could very well be put on the line on Saturday night. The pressure of ending a three-game losing skid pales in comparison to defending that type of perfect mark, doesn't it?

KenPom.Com Game Prediction: Gophers 72, Indiana 67 (Minnesota has a 71 percent chance of victory)