The Gophers face Florida State tomorrow night in the ACC-Big 1o Challenge, in what will be a key game for two possible bubble teams. While many will focus on Big 10 losing streak in these challenges, and apologists for both sides will defend their conference to the death, I am just happy that this marks the return of on-campus college basketball games that matter. Few things annoy me more than lackadaisical basketball on neutral courts in meaningless tournaments which now fills every non-football waking (and sleeping thank to Hawaii and Alaska) moment during Thanksgiving weekend.
Last week, the Gophers beat Iowa State on the road and Central Michigan at home. The Iowa State game showed just how far the Gophers have come since last year’s disappointing season and the Central Michigan game showed just how far they still have to go. A repeat of the out of sync and at times lackluster performance displayed Saturday night will not be enough. Hopefully it had more to do with a post Thanksgiving hangover between two big road games than a regression to last year’s point a minute offensive pace.
Like Minnesota, Florida State is a difficult team to figure out. After a season opening home win against now free falling UAB, FSU they were also in the mood for a free-fall, at least for a few days. They lost to Cleveland State and South Florida, teams that have already lost to Georgia Southern and South Florida respectively. Following those two losses FSU went into Gainsville and completely dominated the back to back national champions. Apparently, the Seminole want to secure their spot on the bubble early this year.
The last two years FSU has failed to make the NCAA tournament following seasons as confusing as this one so far. They beat Duke on the road but then lost five ACC games in a row, as if they were challenging the selection committeee to disregard what should have been a resume solidifying victory. Al Thorton, their leading all-everything leading scorer has left for the NBA, but they return their four other starters including a strong back court.
As pointed over at Down with Goldy, the majority of skill and scoring for FSU can be found in their back-court. Most would agree that the Gopher’s strength is their front court, but at least on the defensive end, they have been a liability, especially against Iowa State. With Florida State’s limited front court punch, the Gophers should dominate on the inside.
Florida State has always been one of the most athletic teams in the ACC, and there is no reason to doubt that this will be the case again this year. The Gopher guards have been able to shut down opposing back courts so far, but this will their toughest game defensive test. Al Nolen and the Lawrences will be able to hold their own for a while, but if they get tired, the Seminole will be able to run all over Blake Hoffarber, Jamal Abu-Shamala, and Kevin Payton. It will be essential for the top three Gopher guards to stay out of trouble. Don’t expect a lot of scoring out of the Gopher back-court as they will use most of their energy chasing around Florida State’s guards.
To win, the Gophers will need to play their best game so far this season. Coming off the turnover fest against Central Michigan, I just don’t see the Gophers putting together a solid 40 minutes. I expect Florida State jumping to a big lead, the Gophers clawing their way back, but just not enough to win. Florida State wins 73-67. Of course, this is also the team that lost Cleveland State. If the Gophers that beat Iowa State show up, and Florida State plays as badly as they are capable of, the score and the result could easily be reversed. The best part is you can actually see it for yourself. That’s right, the game is actually on TV, on ESPN2
And for those paying attention, this is yet another game against a teams with maroon and/or gold colors. Southwest State, Iowa State, and Central Michigan also have team colors similar to the Gophers. Next year their should be a tournament, or at the very least a trophy awarded to the top maroon and gold team in the country.