After a disappointing showing in the Maui Invitational just under a week ago, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-2) need to get back on track before the non-conference schedule becomes a bit of a disaster under first year head coach Richard Pitino. After playing point for point with the currently ranked 3rd Syracuse Orange for about 37 minutes, the Gophers began a spiral that almost ended in complete disaster. While they avoided a loss to the Division II Chaminade Silverswords, Minnesota certainly didn't do much on the big island to boost their currently fragile confidence. A win against a solid Florida State squad would certainly help in putting the Gophers back on track.
The Florida State Seminoles (5-2) come to Williams Arena already having played three ranked teams. After dismantling VCU by a score of 85-67, the Seminoles dropped heart breakers to both Michigan (82-80 in overtime) and in-state rival Florida (67-66). Not a bad resume this early in the year for a team with uncertain expectations entering the season. Thus far with senior guard Ian Miller leading the way, the Seminoles rank a respectable 35th in Pomeroy's rating system. As has been the case in recent years, the Seminoles have been playing higher level defense, currently rated 23rd in the same system.
The Gophers need to do a few things in order to remain competitive and steal a win for Coach Pitino and the B1G in what could prove to be an important matchup in the Challenge. First, they need to keep the rebounding margin respectable and crash the boards as a team. While Eliott Eliason has done a nice job on the glass thus far (9.8 rpg), he'll need help from Mo Walker and Austin Hollins to keep the rebounding differential either positive or close to even. Speaking of Austin Hollins, he needs to increase his efficiency and either start knocking down open three pointers or get better looks at the basket because 42.2 % from the field just isn't going to cut it if the Gophers want to win a few games that they shouldn't this season. Not to throw Austin under the bus, because the team as a whole is shooting poorly, but he needs to step up as a senior leader right now and take charge of the team when Andre Hollins' shot isn't falling.
Another important aspect the Gophers should focus on is limiting their turnovers. A lot of the players on this squad are still getting acclimated to the fast-paced system that Pitnino has installed but that does not excuse some of the errant passes and terrible decision making that has plagued Minnesota at the start of the season. On that note, Deandre Mathieu needs to take better care of the ball. He currently sits at 19 turnovers, good for second in the B1G. While his usage percentage is high, he needs to supplement some of his dribbling for passing out of trouble and avoiding taking bad shots among the trees against Florida State. If he keeps his game to competent drives and open three-pointers, his efficiency will stay in a very desirable range for the Gophers.
Florida State seems like a balanced team that has played a relatively challenging schedule so far. However, the Gophers do get them at the comfy confines of the Barn. It's currently a little hard to tell what team will show up: the squad that challenged the Orange for 37 minutes or the turnover prone, horrifically shooting team that laid a massive egg in the second half against Arkansas. If Andre Hollins can get back to shooting around 50% from the field, the team keeps the rebounding margin within 4 or less, and limits turnovers, they can grab a win for the B1G in this hotly contested challenge.
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