Thanks to their strong performance in the Bahamas and a few foibles by previously ranked teams, the Golden Gophers will enter their Big Ten-ACC challenge game against Florida State Seminoles ranked 21st in the Associate Press poll. While the ranking will not help the team win any games, and will certainly decrease the odds that any opponents will overlook them, the recognition is good for the players and program, and just might get a few extra fans to trek out to The Barn on a cold winter night.
Getting ranking is the easy part, and staying ranked is considerably more difficult. The Gophers, despite their national ranking, shouldn’t be favored to beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee, where many a highly touted ACC teams lose games against supposedly over-matched Seminoles. Last season North Carolina lost by 33. Two seasons ago Duke lost their #1 ranking while playing the Seminoles on the road. They certainly won’t be intimidated. However, they likely weren’t intimidated when they played South Alabama to open the season, and lost. That mysterious and frankly confusing loss is the only blemish on their record. Since then they have decent wins over St. Joseph’s and BYU, a blowout win against Buffalo, and an eight point win over future Gopher opponent North Florida.
Traditionally, Florida State has been successful because of their defense. They were the 15th best defense in the country last season, and the best defense in the country the two seasons before that. This season, their defense is rather ordinary, allowing .932 points per possession compared to .893 last season. They’ve already allowed two opponents to score greater than one point per possession, something they only did six times two seasons ago. Florida State won’t win games because of defense alone. They might even lose a few games because of poor defense. The biggest difference between this season and previous seasons is that opponents shot are going in more often than any time since the 2007-2008 season. Florida State was one of the top six shot blocking teams each of the past four seasons. This season, they rank 114th in blocking shot, so shots are falling because they aren’t well defended, despite the Seminoles being the sixth tallest team in the country.
The Seminoles offense has not enjoyed the same reputation as their defense, never ranking better than 75th in the country since 2006-2007. This season, and admittedly it is still early, they are above average, scoring 1.07 points per possession. They shoot well both inside and out, but give the ball away too often and don’t get too many second chance points. This is another game where the team that shoots the most probably wins.
Michael Snaer will be taking most of those shots, and will likely keep several Gophers from getting shots off throughout the game. He is excellent on both ends of the floor, and absolutely fearless (proclaiming himself the best shooting guard in the country, which is probably true). He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, and third in assists. He isn’t a particularly accurate shooter though, and commits a ton of turnovers. If he is kept in check, Minnesota will likely win. On the inside, Okaro White, a less athletic version of Rodney Williams, is a serviceable scorer and decent rebounder. He is scoring 14 points per game, which represents a doubling of his scoring average since last season. This may be a sample size issue. Terrance Shannon is a less athletic version of Trevor Mbakwe averaging 10.8 points per game on 62% shooting. Trevor Mbakwe was made to defend him, and he’ll need to given Elliott Eliason’s considerable difficulty guarding anything with a pulse. Ian Miller does the majority of the ball handling, and his two to one assist to turnover ratio is by far a career best. Terry Whiznat, despite playing only 19.4 minutes per game, can be a dangerous and efficient scorer.
The Gophers didn’t play a true road game during last year’s non-conference season, and this is the first game this season in an unfriendly environment. It is anybody’s guess how they will handle their first road test. I’d like to think that a team with so much experience and that has faced so much adversity can handle a half full arena of north Floridians. Road games are tough though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gophers lose the game and their ranking, even if they are the better team now and the better team in March.