Gophers vs. Florida State: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

New York — The Gophers made this a goal as soon as they were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament — get to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals.

Three wins later, they're here.

Now the question is, are they here to lift the trophy on Thursday night?

The first step in that direction involves beating Florida State on Tuesday night.

Yes, Minnesota already topped the Seminoles earlier this season in a 71-61 win,  but that was in December and at Williams Arena. Circumstances are different this time around.

Here are five things to watch for:

Replacing Elliott Eliason: Eliason isn't likely to play on Tuesday night as he deals with a left-ankle injury. That could cause problems for the Gophers as they attempt to deal with the third-largest team in the country. 

But Eliason was hardly a factor the last time these two teams played. He finished with one point before fouling out. Mo Walker wasn't much better, contributing four points and five boards before he too was disqualified due to foul trouble. Walker is a better player than he was back in December, and he'll have to show it on Tuesday night. The Gophers need more out of their big men to have success.

The Hollinses: Austin and Andre Hollins were the reasons Minnesota pulled out that early December matchup. Austin scored 16 points while Andre dumped in a game-high 21.

Austin Hollins has recovered from his midseason slump to help carry Minnesota down the stretch, and I'd expect that to continue.

The important thing for Andre Hollins, 12 of his 21 points came at the charity stripe in that December matchup. That's the type of aggression the Gophers need from him tonight. It's the type of aggression he hasn't shown since suffering his ankle injury in January. 

Turnovers: The Gophers only committed six turnovers against the Seminoles earlier this season, an astonishingly low number for this group, while forcing Florida State into 17 giveaways.

The key that night might have been DeAndre Mathieu. The junior point guard took great care of the ball, playing without a turnover while dropping four dimes, pacing the Gophers efficient offensive performance. Another show like that from Mathieu at the Garden would prove beneficial for Minnesota.

Man or zone?: The Gophers utilized their zone defense to lock down the Seminoles in December (holding FSU to 2 of 10 shooting from deep). But as Pitino has noted, Minnesota's man D has improved drastically since then. Which one will Pitino and the Gophers show out of the gate on Tuesday night? And what kind of mix between the two will we see?

Pitino's suit: His light brown one. It's the one he wore the last time the Gophers topped Florida State, and it's one of his favorites. For his return to New York, he has to pull something flashy out.

KenPom Game Prediction: Gophers 70, Florida State 71 (Minnesota has a 45 percent chance of victory)

Additional Reading:

Austin Hollins ready for collegiate swan song at the Garden

Column from Sam Gordon: Pitino's first season should be deemed a success