Easier game offers relief after successful road trip

Minnesota returns to Williams Arena on Saturday to play North Florida.

Minnesota guard Joe Coleman shoots a jumper against Toledo on Nov. 12 at Williams Arena.

Image by Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Joe Coleman shoots a jumper against Toledo on Nov. 12 at Williams Arena.

by Andrew Krammer

Following the Gophers’ road win over Florida State on Tuesday, Andre Hollins tweeted about returning to Minnesota to “catch up on class work and get some rest finally.”

Hollins’ extended Thanksgiving break from the classroom was a business trip, but he should be able to rest fine knowing his next day at the office is against North Florida.

No. 21 Minnesota (7-1) plays the Ospreys (2-4) on Saturday in its first game back from a four-game road trip.

The Gophers went 3-1 against Duke, Memphis, Stanford and Florida State, falling only to the second-ranked Blue Devils.

Duke is an elite team — a step above the Gophers — but Minnesota showed it belongs in the top 25 by taking down No. 19 Memphis and last year’s ACC champion Seminoles.

Coach Tubby Smith said last week that he didn’t like having to play four road games in six days, but “that’s how it fell.”

The Gophers have three days between games before taking the court against North Florida, a team that has already lost to both Memphis and Florida State this season.

Winning tends to hide a team’s problems, but Minnesota handled its turnovers issue well against top-tier opponents.

The Gophers turned it over 63 times in their first four games against easier nonconference opponents and only 61 times in their past four games.

The Ospreys could struggle to score Saturday, as they’ve averaged only 64 points against lesser competition. Minnesota’s pressure defense, meanwhile, has stifled its opponents this season.

The Gophers have allowed a little more than 60 points per game this year and held a normally efficient FSU team to 38 percent shooting.

Smith has stuck with the same starting lineup that took Minnesota to the National Invitation Tournament final last spring, leaving star Trevor Mbakwe on the bench.

Mbakwe has still played more minutes this season than his replacement, sophomore Elliott Eliason, and has made an impact in Minnesota’s closer games.

The sixth-year senior had his best game of the season in the Gophers’ three-point win over Stanford, notching team-highs in points (19) and rebounds (12) for his 24th-career double-double.

Smith benched a visibly disgruntled Mbakwe after a flagrant foul against FSU. Mbakwe played five minutes in the first half, but he finished with 19 minutes.

Mbakwe leads the Gophers in rebounding (6.4 per game) despite averaging only 18 minutes off the bench.