Gophers to take no chances vs. Bobcats

Aaron Kirscht

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to include 64 teams in 1985, a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed. That bodes well for the Gophers, who earned a first-ever top seed in the tournament on Sunday and will play No. 16 seed Southwest Texas State on Friday in Kansas City.
But even though they have statistical history on their side, the Gophers want to make sure they aren’t the first.
When Minnesota beat Michigan State last week to all but lock up the No. 1 seed, Clem Haskins and his coaching staff compiled a list of eight possible opponents.
Included on that list was Southwest Texas State, which hails from the Southland conference. The Bobcats (16-12), seeded No. 2 heading into the conference tournament this weekend, defeated defending champ Northeast Louisiana 84-74 to earn an automatic bid and their second-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
“They’ve been tested in tournament situations,” Haskins said. “We just have to play our style and not listen to people who say they’re a No. 16 seed and not a very good team. There are 64 teams in this tournament and anyone of them can beat you.”
Three Bobcats players, all guards, average in double figures for scoring. Dameon Sansom averages 14 points per game, followed by Donte Mathis with 13 and Rodney Walton with 11.
The Gophers have had trouble with teams that use a three-guard rotation and shoot well from 3-point range, as do the Bobcats. Two of Minnesota’s three losses — Alabama and Illinois — came against teams that employ such an offense.
“They’re quick, clever ball-handlers,” Haskins said. “They can shoot the three, and we have to get out and test those guys on the perimeter. But they’re a disciplined team and they don’t turn the ball over a lot.”
Jeff Foster, the only center on the roster, stands 6-foot-11 and is the only center on the Bobcats’ roster. He leads the team in rebounds with 7.5 per game.
Haskins likened Foster to Purdue’s Brad Miller and said he could cause match-up problems with the Gophers, who rely on the inside presence of 6-foot-8 Courtney James and 6-foot-9 John Thomas and 7-foot Trevor Winter. Foster, however, gives up more than 50 pounds to all three players.
It seems the only thing Minnesota and Southwest Texas State have in common is their strength at home. Both the Gophers (15-0) and the Bobcats (11-0) went undefeated during their home schedule.
Southwest Texas State, however, went 2-9 on the road, while Minnesota went 12-3. The Bobcats compiled their mediocre record against the likes of McNeese State, University of Texas-Arlington and Stephen F. Austin.
The Gophers whipped Stephen F. Austin 101-55 in the preseason, and figure to deliver a similar beating to the Bobcats in the first round. Southwest Texas State split the season series with the Lumberjacks, winning by 15 at home and losing by 10 on the road.
The Bobcats hovered around the .500 mark for the first half of the season before winning nine of its last 13 games and putting together a season-best five-game win streak.
“They’re a very aggressive ball club that we know is capable of beating us if we’re not ready to play,” Haskins said. “But it’s a team we can have success against if we play up to our potential.”