The motivation for nearly every player in the NIT is the same — get to Madison Square Garden.
The Gophers are one win away from achieving that goal. To clinch their berth in the NIT semifinals in New York, they'll have to top Southern Miss on Tuesday night at Williams Arena.
Here are my five things to watch for:
DeAndre Mathieu: By now, I'm sure you know about the relationship between Mathieu and his coach at Morehead State, now the head coach at Southern Miss, Donnie Tyndall. If you haven't, read here.
Mathieu will obviously be excited for this one tonight and want to prove himself against his former coach who didn't think he was worthy of a scholarship, but the Gophers floor general still needs to be able to control his emotions, so he can control his play.
When Mathieu is out of control and turning the ball over, Minnesota struggles. When he is playing within himself, getting to the rack and making plays with his quickness, the Gophers are one tough out.
Chip Armelin: Chip! You all remember him. Armelin delivered some highlight moments, and some head-shaking ones as well. Overall though, in just more than a year, fans seemed to take a liking to Armelin. Now the junior guard makes his return to the Barn, so we'll get a chance to see how he's improved and what he can do.
Quick start: The Gophers were lethargic in the first six minutes against St. Mary's — to say the least. Minnesota fell behind 14-0 but was able to recover thanks to a stellar defensive performance.
But make no mistake, Southern Miss is better than St. Mary's. The Golden Eagles could have easily been an NCAA Tournament squad. If Minnesota wants to beat Southern Miss, it will likely require a hot start.
Andre Hollins: Where's he been? Hollins has shot just 5 for 30 from the field over Minnesota's last three contests. The Gophers need more out of their best scorer.
Of late, he's been relegated to being a spot-up jump shooter in the Gophers offense. That's not his game. Minnesota needs him to be more aggressive, particularly off the bounce. He needs to get to the rim, yes, but he also needs to find his jumper off the dribble. That's when he's at his best. He can't be a by-stander on offense if the Gophers are to be successful on the offensive end.
Pitino's suit: It is a primetime game on ESPN.. So I'm going with the light brown one.
KenPom.com Prediction: Gophers 69, Southern Miss 65 (Minnesota has a 65 percent chance of victory)
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