Sunday, March 16, 2008
The NIT field was announced tonight, and the Gophers will host the Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday. You can find the entire bracket here. As always, it's hard to figure out which teams will treat this as a chance to play well and prove to the world how good they are, and which teams will be pissed and unhappy to be there and mail it in.
The Gophers are seeded fourth in their bracket, which includes Syracuse as the #1. Assuming the Orange get passed Robert Morris, they would take on the winner of the Minnesota/Maryland game, I'm assuming at Syracuse. The other #1 seeds are Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and Arizona State.
Maryland will present a difficult challenge for the Gophers, and despite being seeded below Minnesota they are the superior team. Maryland was on the NCAA bubble for most of the season, a place the Gophers pretty much never even sniffed, until a late season three game losing streak - including a monumental collapse against Clemson - sealed their NIT fate. The Terrapins rank in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and have some players I don't know if the Gophers can handle.
Greivis Vasquez starts things for Maryland. He's from somewhere foreign, and is a very effective point guard when he's on, such as his 13 point, 9 rebound, 15 assist performance against NC State. The good news for Gopher fans is that when he's off, he can be way off. He struggles shooting the ball at times, shooting just 44% on the season and 31% from three. He also can turn the ball over if he's not careful, as he averaged a whopping 4.5 turnovers per game, canceling out his 6.9 assist per game and created a pedestrian 1.5 A/TO ratio. Given the Gophers' propensity for turning the other team over, this could play into their hands. Wake Forest has a very similar ranking in turnovers created, and in the two games against them, Vasquez turned it over an average of 6 times per game.
The guy I'm most worried about is 6-9 forward James Gist, and who the hell is going to guard him. The Gopher guards are good enough to check Vasquez, but outside of Damian Johnson they don't have a player who can matchup on Gist. Gist is a powerful player who can score in the paint, with just enough of an outside shot to be doubly dangerous (31% from three). He is adept at getting to the line (10th in FT attempts in the ACC) and can make them at a 75% clip. He is also an excellent rebounder, pulling in 7.8 per game. If the Gophers want to win this game, Gist is the #1 guy they'll need to control.
The last two guys I'll mention are Maryland's two other double digits scorers, center Bombale Osby (11.2 pts/6.5 rebs) and shooting guard Eric Hayes (10.3 pts/4.4 apg). Osby is going to be a handful for either Tollackson or Williams, and not just because he has the sweetest 'fro since Oscar Gamble. He's a load at 6-8, 250 lbs. and can control the paint on either end. He too is adept at getting to the line (9th in the ACC in attempts) and he and Gist team up to block more than 4 shots per game. Hayes doesn't get the pub Vasquez does, but is a far superior shooter (40% from three).
I'm really don't think the Gophers can win this game, but, of course, you never know who is going to take it seriously. Considering Gist is a senior and the team leader, I'm guessing he'll have the troops fired up and ready to play. I don't think home court advantage will be enough to save the Gophers.
Maryland 70, Minnesota 65.