It's been long enough since the Maui Invitational ended that I'm able to kind of move on and pretend it didn't happen, and that's probably for the best for all involved because I think we saw the Gophers at both their best and their worst, and the team's true ability lies somewhere in the middle. They couldn't have looked much worse in the second half against Arkansas or the first half against Chaminade, when preseason fears of a team with zero interior defense and major difficulties rebounding looked fully justified. On the flip side, they hung tough with a team in Syracuse who should end up as a National Title contend and who had the size and length where I though they'd just toy with the Gophers, to the point where they may have been a bad Malik Smith pass away from making things very, very interesting at the end. I was encouraged by the game against Syracuse, crushed by the loss to Arkansas and the first half against Chaminade, and back to normal after they blew Chaminade away to close out. Basically I'm exactly where I was pre-tournament, seeing as how the team played completely differently in the two games against D-I opponents. So I'm moving on.
It sucks that the Gophers weren't able to get a quality win in Maui since that was probably their best chance this year, but luckily Florida State has been a pleasant surprise and will offer that opportunity at the barn Tuesday night (man I wish they had gotten Andrew Wiggins). Although the Seminoles were picked to finish in the bottom third of the ACC by most, they've gotten off to a nice 5-2 start with a win over VCU, and their two losses were in overtime to Michigan and on the road at Florida - both quality opponents. They've played well enough over all to rank 34th by Ken Pomeroy's metrics. The Gophers rank 45th, but kenpom still projects a 4 point Gopher victory in this one. I'm less optimistic.
The loss versus Arkansas (and to a lesser extent the game against Chaminade) exposed four major opponent skills the Gophers are likely to struggle againt (none of these were a surprise): teams that can handle the press, teams with size, teams that score inside, and teams who rebound well on the offensive glass. Florida State is all of this..
As for size, they're one of the biggest teams in the country, with an average height of 78.9 inches, which is huge and ranks them as the third biggest team in the country. They crash the boards well, rebounding 36% of their own misses, ranking 80th in the nation. They only turn the ball over 22% of the time (good for 36th), they don't shoot the three much (just 22% of FGA are from three, 342nd in the country) and they don't need to because they're very efficient inside the arch (54%, ranks 49th). Simply put, these guys are a nightmare match-up for the Gophers offensively and their strength is actual defense. Ouch
Leonard Hamilton traditionally has his guys play a stifling man-to-man, and the Seminoles finished in the top 13 in defensive efficiency every year from 2009-2012 before falling off due to poor /inexperienced personnel. Well everything is back and good to go, and you can expect the guards to apply heavy pressure and try to funnel everything into the lane where FSU has a bunch of big time shot blockers, leaving the choices either try to take it at one of the trees or try to shoot what will likely be a contested jumper over a pretty tall dude. Ball movement and kicking it out after penetration will be the biggest keys for the Gophers this game (along with offensive rebounding, one of the few defensive weaknesses for the Seminoles). If the Gophers run the same crap offense they ran for most of the Chaminade game which consisted just of one-on-one isolations and pick and rolls on the ball, this is going to be a horrible, horrible game. Here's hoping we see more of the motion and off-the-ball picks Pitino had going earlier this season.
As far as they go individually there isn't really a big star as they share the overall offensive load quite well without a single player taking more than 23% of the shots when on the court. They have four double digit per game scorers and another at 9.9 per. Seven players average 2.9 rebounds per game or more, and four players are at 2.3 assists or better. Like I said before , they move and share the ball well and don't turn it over, work to get a good shot usually inside the 3-point line, and then crash the boards hard when the shot goes up. With two seven footers (and it could be three for this game) and three other guys bigger than 6-7 it's worth repeating - this is a large team.
The team's leading scorer is 6-3 combo guard Ian Miller who averages 15.1 ppg and also leads the team in assists at 3.6 per. Although I mentioned the Noles don't launch many threes, Miller is the rare exception (54% of attempts are threes) although having him launch threes isn't the worst thing for the Gophers - he's hitting 38% for this year but is at about 33% for his career. If he's not launching he's probably driving and drawing a foul, which is the really deadly part of his game. He's among the national leaders in getting to the line and makes 94% there, so he can pile on points in a hurry using that weapon. I'm a bit nervous for Andre Hollins in this one, given that he seems to be fouling at an alarming rate. The rest of the back court is made up of 6-1 point guard Devon Bookert (11.4ppg/2.4 apg - only other 3-point threat at 47%), 6-7 wing Montay Brandon (9.9 ppg/6.3 rpg - mainly an inside player, gets to the line a lot) and 6-5 wing Aaron Thomas (10.7 ppg/3.1 spg - can score a bunch in a hurry). For some reason Thomas and Miller come off the bench which is weird but I suppose it's a hell of a second unit.
Up front the Noles are a mish mash of different guys who can all defend and rebound well, with the major standout 6-8 senior Okaro White (13.6 ppg/6.9 rpg). White made a huge leap last season and has become the leader of the team. He's yet another FSU player who gets to the line a ton and makes a high percentage (84%). He's really tough to handle in the paint, and if the Gophers are lucky he'll have one of those games where he falls in love with his jump shot. Fellow senior Robert Gilchrist (6-9) will likely start for FSU again, and although he's not a major offensive threat (6.6ppg) he's another good rebounder and defender with good size, because Florida State doesn't have enough of those kind of guys.
And speaking of size, center is manned by the two man rotation of 7-3 Boris Bojanovsky (likely to start) and 7-1 Michael Ojo. Both block a ridiculous amount of shots and Ojo is an absolute terror on the boards when he's in. Neither has much of an offensive game outside of the paint, but when you're that big you don't necessarily need one. There's also the possibility that Florida State gets Kiel Turpin back from a knee injury for this game, and he's another seven footer who showed some flashes last season. He's similar to the other two in that he excels at shot blocking and rebounding rather than scoring, but he's got some range on his jumper the either two don't possess. When healthy he's the best center option for Hamilton, so hopefully he still needs to rest up.
I would normally be quite confident that the Gophers wouldn't be able to handle Florida State's size, but they did just fine against Syracuse. So I'm not confident the Gophers lose, but I also struggle to imagine them winning against a team with this kind of size who also has good enough ball handlers to handle the press. We saw what happened against Arkansas when the Gophers got into a track meet with a team which was both better equipped and more experienced for a helter skelter type game. Hamilton doesn't always have his teams play uptempo, but when he has good guard play he does and that's what they've done so far this year. Hopefully Pitino has made some necessary adjustment, and hopefully the Gophers run some decent half court offense. I can see this getting ugly. But I hope I'm wrong. FSU's free throws end up making the difference:
Florida State 77, Minnesota 73
|You know how hard it is to find a pic like this WITHOUT Jenn Sterger?|
|I predict there were a lot of bad decisions made later that night|
|I like her she seems smart|