Florida vs. Minnesota, Recon: Gophers bloggers size up the Gators

USA TODAY Sports

Florida's road to the Sweet Sixteen runs through the rugged Minnesota Golden Gophers. Read what has Minnesota fans worried — and what one thing is their team's "Kryptonite."

To better preview Florida's round of 32 matchup with Minnesota this evening in Austin, I went to some Gophers experts: GopherNation, The Daily Gopher's editor, and Steve Bailey, of From the Barn. We swapped questions and answers — you can see my answers to Steve's queries at From the Barn — and I made you this. Read it and love it.

Minnesota's made its name on a few big upsets this year. What do the Gophers do when they play well?

Bailey: The Gophers are a fantastic defensive team, and I'd say their calling card is getting opponents out of their offensive comfort zone. The defense is their rock but it doesn't always win games on its own, because the Gophers are prone to offensive droughts.

When they're playing at their best, they are also making it happen on the offensive side of the ball. They keep the ball moving, get open shots and crash the boards hard for second chance points. Their best performances come when Andre Hollins is hitting his shots and their front court is pulling down offensive rebounds. If their offensive doesn't stagnate (a huge "if"), they can be tough to beat.

GopherNation: They played really well for the first 16 games of the season and then the wheels kind of fell off before a couple upsets of Wisconsin and Indiana kept the Gophers from being completely irrelevant. They were playing really well into early January and they had an offense that moved, played with some freedom, and got offensive rebounds at a near-record pace (about 49 percent). I think this team is built to play well and succeed against non-Big Ten teams.

The obvious counterpoints to those big wins were the passel of Big Ten losses Minnesota picked up. What's it like when Minnesota plays poorly, and how can other teams get them off their game?

GopherNation: They certainly had a stretch where they played really bad basketball, mostly in February. During this stretch, we turned the ball over a lot and started playing in lower-possession games. Considering we lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, turnovers are critical errors for this team, especially when you play games with so few possessions.

For whatever reason, Tubby's teams tend to play different on both ends of the floor when we get into Big Ten games. It is like there is some unwritten coach's code about not playing an up-tempo style or a watchable brand of basketball. Unlike many other Big Ten teams, Minnesota plays better in a faster-paced game.

Bailey: (looks up "passel" in the dictionary) Is there a word for "6th grade B-squad"? Seriously, the Gophers' half-court game is unreliable at best and downright atrocious when they really get on a roll. They use their superior rebounding ability to corral their own misses and get easy baskets, but they don't have any sort of sharpshooter, natural point guard or cohesive offensive scheme they can rely on. That said, Minnesota is dangerous when they have a size advantage, since they can essentially rebound their misses until they get a basket.

If the Gators really want to walk away with the victory they'll deploy a zone; it's Minnesota's Kryptonite. They legitimately have no earthly idea how to attack one. In fact, it's embarrassing to watch. I sometimes think that a well-coached high school team could deploy a zone against the Gophers and shut them down. It's really that bad.

Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams form one of the most athletic frontcourts Florida has seen all year. But Patric Young has done an excellent job in post defense all year, and Erik Murphy's long arms can be troublesome. Can Mbakwe and Williams get it done against formidable forwards?

Bailey: Mbakwe is a neutralizing force at worst and a game-changer when he’s really on. In fact, I’m not sure there is anyone in the country who can truly minimize his presence to the point where he’s a non-factor. He led one of the better conferences in the country in rebounding and does his fair share of scoring. In short, he’s an animal on the block, and, if the Gophers can actually get the ball to him (which they’ve actually had trouble doing), he is always impactful.

Williams has, frustratingly, turned into an enigma this season. He shows up in big ways in some games but, like Friday against UCLA, completely disappears in others. It’s a product of him not knowing if he should be a 3 or a 4, and often tries to do both. He can’t shoot well enough to be a reliable 3, but he’s undersized for the post, so he tends to kind of wander around the court. He’s prone to frustration, too, so it’s not super difficult to get him off his game. If the Gators can get Williams in a funk early he’ll be largely ineffective.

GopherNation: To be honest, I know very little about Young or Murphy, but it depends on which version of both Gopher forwards shows up. Trevor Mbakwe is a dangerous combination of strength and athleticism; when he plays with some passion, he can be lethal. Rodney Williams is a super freak athletically who is incredibly frustrating because he has been largely invisible since December. He is a leaper who is good for a highlight-reel dunk almost nightly, but consistency and reliability are missing from his game.

I'm not counting on much of anything from Williams, but Mbakwe will be a necessary key for the Gophers. He is very good at getting opposing forwards into foul trouble and that would be a big thing if Young and/or Murphy have to sit for extended minutes.

Andre and Austin Hollins are the best "same name, not related" pair in college basketball. When they make their shots, how good can the Gophers be?

GopherNation: That is such a huge key to this offense, particularly Andre Hollins. He has a green light and, at certain times, he can really carry the offensive load for this offense. When he is playing great and making good decisions, everyone benefits. If you look back, he played outstanding in last year's NIT run, and he played great this past fall in our Thanksgiving tournament. He is capable of taking us on a run to the second weekend.

Austin, on the other hand, is a good shooter, and a kid who just does everything very well. He isn't as explosive as Andre, but he is our best defender, and a good passer and rebounder. If he is shooting well and playing off Andre, this is a very underrated backcourt.

Bailey: Same name, same hometown (Memphis) – no relation. It’s hard to overstate their importance to the Minnesota offense because they’re really the only guys who can score away from the basket. When they’re both on, the Gophers are capable of scoring 80+ points in a game. When they’re off, it’s hard for the team to crack 50.

Working in our favor is that Andre Hollins has shown the tendency to rise to the occasion in big games. If he’s on early then he’s generally good to go for the game. Austin was in a huge shooting funk late in the conference season, but has rebounded to regain his hold as one of the team’s premier shooters.

Who or what most worries you about Florida?

GopherNation: Who is tough to say, because they are such a balanced team, but I'd have to say I'm most worried about Murphy. An athletic big man who can shoot should be an interesting matchup for the Gophers. The Gators are talented team, and everyone makes me nervous. Ultimately, I'm most worried about their three point shooting, because if they are hitting, then this could be a lopsided affair.

Bailey: Admittedly, I haven’t seen a whole lot of Gator basketball. But I am quite nervous about what they bring to the table from a defensive standpoint. The Gophers don’t have a premier ballhandler and it’s not hard to get them off their offensive game when forced into a half-court game. They can go into a shell at the drop of a hat and, if their jumpers aren’t falling, can really struggle to score.

If the Gators figure out that a zone press or half-court defense can essentially shut down the Minnesota offense, I’m not sure they’ll go away from it. That worries me.

What's your prediction?

GopherNation: I can't make a prediction. In spite of how talented Florida is, this Gopher team is capable of beating anybody; it all depends on which team shows up. If the team from December, or the team that flashed us again with the March win over Indiana shows up, then I like our chances. If the February Gophers show up, Florida wins by 20.

Bailey: I think the Gophers will surprise the Gators on defense and make this game closer than people might think it’ll be. However, I’m not convinced that Minnesota is capable rolling up another crazy offensive performance like we saw against UCLA. They’ve been erratic all season on offense and I don’t think it’ll take the Gators too long to realize that they can slow Minnesota down and keep them off balance. I’m taking Florida by single digits.

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