Florida's showdown with Minnesota at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin at 6:10 p.m. Sunday (TNT or March Madness Live) is going to play into one of many narratives, no matter how it goes.
If it's close, Florida gets lumped in with the other blue-blooded high seeds that have struggled this weekend and this Sunday — Gonzaga and Georgetown, both felled; Ohio State and Indiana, both escapees. If Florida loses, it confirms the "Florida can't win close games" narrative; if Florida wins, it gets a win over the rugged Big Ten, but only one data point to stack against that narrative.
And if it's a blowout win for the Gators, Florida still can't do anything but blow out teams: The same worries will remain. If it's a blowout loss?
Well, that would hurt.
Florida's greatest challenge against the Gophers will bring them up against another narrative, the one that holds that the Gators are "soft." Minnesota leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, snagging a staggering 44 percent of their misses. Patric Young, Erik Murphy, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather are all good rebounders, and Yeguete and Young are occasionally great, but had trouble down the stretch in the regular season and SEC Tournament with keeping the ball, allowing opponents to grab more than 25 percent of their offensive boards in all 12 games since Yeguete suffered an aggravation of his knee injury against Arkansas.
Then came Friday, and a dominant day against Northwestern State: Florida permitted just six offensive boards on 32 missed shots, and only three of them to Northwestern State players. The Demons were small, and more concerned with getting up shots than getting second shots, but that's a promising turnaround for the Gators, especially because Yeguete's six boards tied his high since returning from that surgery ... and because both Young and Murphy were active and aggressive on the boards, which is a rarity.
Trevor Mbakwe is one of the nation's best rebounders, however, and a far cry from Northwestern State's front line. He will tax both Young and Murphy, and if Young can at least stalemate him on defense and on the glass, Florida will be in great shape.
Florida, after all, has the personnel to stress Minnesota's defense all over, with Murphy's perimeter shooting likely to be the one element the Gophers can't match or eliminate. Rodney Williams, an inconsistent defender on his best days, may block a Murphy three or two, but Murphy drawing him out to the wing is going to open things up inside.
And Florida's defense is unlike any the Gophers have seen, even though they've seen Wisconsin (and beat a squad that missed 40 of its 59 shots on the day ... in overtime) and Ohio State (which hammered Minnesota by 26) since February 1. Also since February 1, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Illinois have all held the Gophers to 51 points or fewer, with hideous shooting (just three games over 50 percent in Effective Field Goal Percentage in 12 tries) being the proximate cause of the atrocious offense more often than not.
But Minnesota beat Indiana in one of the other nine games by snagging a tremendous 53.5 percent of offensive rebounds, so, no matter how many layers I try to examine Minnesota from, one thing is clear: The best way to keep them out of the win column is to keep them off the glass.
Florida will almost certainly need to eat a steady diet of glass this Sunday to move on. It'll be painful if they do it — but losing would be worse.
I'll be tweeting. I'll be commenting. Go Gators.