NCAA tournament pregame: Gophers get tough draw in second game vs. 3-seed Florida

Andrew Krammer

Florida is the best team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball rankings. The “advanced analysis” the revered statistician conducts utilizes solely numbers – and quite a few of them – to deduce his own rankings.

CBS Sports’ pundits Jeff Goodman and Dennis Dodd have the Gators in their Final Four picks, while many national experts also feel Florida was under seeded in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The 11-seed Minnesota Gophers drew the Gators in their second game of this year’s Big Dance after dismantling a UCLA squad that carried more baggage than the unpredictable Gophers. Tipoff is slated for 5:10 p.m. CT on Sunday.

Minnesota seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams use the old cliché of “one game at a time,” but Mbakwe said the Gophers aren’t in Austin, Texas to play the role of underdogs.

“We came here to go farther than the Sweet 16,” Mbakwe said. “[Florida] is a game in front of us of where we want to go.”

The Southeastern Conference champion Gators play a very similar style of basketball to the Gophers and to some Big Ten teams. Gator center Patric Young (6’9”, 249lbs) averages 10.5 points and 1.6 blocks per game and Minnesota’s own big man will face one of his toughest tests of the season.

“Patric Young is strong, powerful,” Mbakwe said. “He reminds me of [Michigan State center Derrick] Nix, only bigger.”

Mbakwe said Minnesota likes to pride itself on its defense, while Florida is considered one of the best defensive squads in the nation – bolstered by 10 steals in the opening round victory over Northwestern State on Friday.

The Gophers’ looming inconsistency is hitting shots. Florida excels at the style of play Minnesota tries to emulate, while hitting at higher clips from the field and three-point line.

“Everyone’s saying they’re the number one defending team in the country,” Mbakwe said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if [Sunday’s game] is really low scoring.”

Mbakwe said the Gators remind him of Big Ten opponents Michigan State and Wisconsin with the way Florida suffocates opposing offenses and dictates tempo.

Minnesota beat Michigan State and Wisconsin at Williams Arena this season. Gophers guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins will need to shoot like they did against UCLA (9-of-14 from deep) to make life easier for Mbakwe inside.

“They do a great job defending the three,” Mbakwe said. “We have to get our shooters open, if not, we’ll crash the boards like we’re used to doing.” 

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