Monday, January 24, 2011

Al Nolen Injury = Bubble For Minnesota

Disastrous news for Minnesota: Al Nolen has broken his foot and will likely be gone for the rest of the season. Nolen is Minnesota's best offensive playmaker and perimeter defender. And this makes the transfer of Devoe Joseph really painful. Joseph could have handled playmaking abilities with Nolen gone.

Now? Minnesota will likely turn to Chip Armelin, a true freshman who had been taking some of the ball handling duties when Nolen was on the bench. Maverick Ahanmisi, another true freshman, is an option. He was more of a highly touted 2010 recruit than Armelin, but has played poorly and has been a turnover machine thus far (44.1% turnover rate). Blake Hoffarber is actually leading the team in assists, but he isn't much of a primary plamaker. He's a good passer and shooter, but he's not going to play the point.

To me, this injury makes Minnesota a bubble team. They're currently ranked 16th in the AP Poll and 18th in the Coaches Poll, but they weren't that good even with Nolen. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 18th and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 42nd, and Pomeroy also has them 42nd. In other words, their current ranking is reasonable considering their current resume, but they're not any better than a bubble team. So I was expecting them to slide a bit down the stretch even with a healthy Nolen and had them as a 9 seed in the W-7 BP68. Now? Things will be even worse.

Minnesota is currently 4-3 in Big Ten play with a quality home win over Purdue. They were handed a generous Big Ten schedule (the two teams they will not need to play twice are Wisconsin and Illinois), but they still have to head to Purdue and also have home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois. In my opinion, an 8-10 or 9-9 Big Ten record is most likely. That said, their resume has some breathing room in it. In addition to the Purdue win they have also beaten North Carolina and West Virginia, and only have one weak loss (Virginia). With a worse-than-average ACC, Pac-10, SEC and Atlantic Ten this season, even an 8-10 Big Ten record might be enough for an at-large bid if Minnesota can win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament.

But at the very least, Minnesota's hopes of a top three finish in the Big Ten are over. In my opinion they are the sixth best team in the Big Ten, and will likely still be on the bubble in March.

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