There is no such thing as a “must win” November college basketball game, but there can be very important games, especially in terms of post-season positioning. Thanks to a disappointing performance in the Maui Invitational, the Golden Gophers have a very important game against Florida State Seminoles as part of the Big Ten – ACC challenge on Tuesday evening. A win won’t put them in the NCAA tournament, but a loss would all but necessitate a nine win Big Ten season to play in the tournament that matters in March. The Gophers haven’t won 9 Big Ten games since 2010.
Beating the Seminoles wouldn’t qualify as a signature win in Richard Pitino’s still very young career, but it would be his biggest win as a head coach. Florida State is 5-2 with a win over VCU. There only losses, each by one possession, were to nationally ranked Michigan and Florida.
Florida State is far from an ideal match-up for the Gophers. They are huge, the seventh tallest team in the country, and occasionally play two seven footers at the same time. Their shortest player is 6’3”, which would nearly qualify as a big man on the diminutive Gophers. The Seminoles play fast too, and there is a distinct possibility that we could see something similar to the second half of the Arkansas game. The one saving grace for the Gophers is that unlike Arkansas, the Seminoles probably shouldn’t play so fast. While the Razorbacks could play fast and take care of the ball, Florida State commits turnovers on nearly 23% of their possessions. For comparison, last season’s slippery fingers Gophers gave the ball away on only 21.5% of their possessions. FSU forces plenty of turnovers in their own right, on 21.7% of their opponent’s possessions, but that merely neutralizes their greatest weakness.
One would hope that a team with the size of the Seminoles would use it, and they certainly do. Only nine teams in the country shoot fewer three-pointers. They will pound the ball inside, and get to the free-throw line often. Especially considering their size, Florida State is a poor rebounding team, ranking worse than the Gophers in both offensive and defensive rebounding. Size is an important factor in rebounding, but getting to the ball before an opponent is just as important. Florida State’s interior players aren’t always the fleetest of foot, and their guards occasionally neglect their rebounding duties.
If the Gophers plan to win tomorrow, and thus give themselves some margin for error during the Big Ten season, they need to contain Ian Miller. The 6’3” senior guard was awful last season when the Seminoles and Gophers met in Tallahassee scoring two points on 1-7 shooting. This season, he has consistently been the Seminoles best player, leading his team in scoring and assists, while playing solid, foul-free defense. On the inside, Okaro White is second on the team in scoring, first in rebounds, and an 84% free-throw shooter who gets to the line often. Devin Bookert, this team’s best outside shooter and Aaron Thomas, one of the better perimeter defenders in the country, help to make the Seminoles a formidable opponent.
Florida State is hardly a good match-up for the Gophers, but their greatest weakness, taking care of the ball, should work to the Gophers advantage. If Minnesota is going to win, they’ll need to play their style of game, but also play under control and execute in important situations. So far this season, that execution has been lacking.