FSU gets its third major test of the season as the No. 21 Gophers come to town
Welcome to the 14th ACC - Big Ten Challenge. The ACC made a mockery of the event early on, winning the first ten. But since then the Big Ten has won three straight, including last year's 8-4 massacre. The Seminoles haven't helped at all during the current losing streak, dropping two games to Ohio State and one to Michigan State (FSU is 6-7 all time). This year they get the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers might not have the name value of the previous three opponents, but they're every bit the challenge.
Last night I sat down and talked through all 12 games of the challenge with Andy Bottoms of Midwest Sports Fans. That podcast can be found here.
Minnesota (6-1) is led by 6-6 SF Rodney Williams and 6-1 point guard Andre Hollins. Williams looks like the prototypical NBA small forward. He dunks everything in site. He's great at getting to the line. His only weakness (and the reason he's still in college as a senior) is that his perimeter game is lacking. He leads the team averaging 14.1 points, and is second in rebounding and assists. Sophomore Andre Hollins is a different beast altogether. He needs virtually no space to get a shot off due to his quick release, and he'll shoot from anywhere on the floor. For the most part he's an average-plus 3-point shooter, though he does have the ability to catch fire (as evidenced by the 41 he dropped on Memphis this weekend).
All are talented, but the real player to watch is the 6th man (and 6th year senior) - Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe began his career at Marquette, but missed most of the season due to surgery to fix ligament issues in his fibula. Then he played a year at Miami Dade CC (where he was charged with felony assault against a woman who suffered broken bones in her face) before enrolling at Minnesota (where he was arrested for harassing a woman on Facebook who had a restraining order against him). After a redshirt season he led the Big Ten in rebounding, and seemed on that path again last year before he tore his ACL. Now, he's working his way back into game shape (and getting out of the doghouse after a July DUI).
Mbakwe is built like proverbial brick poopstation at 6-8, 245 pounds. He has decent offensive skills and is an elite rebounder. He's leading the team with 6.7 boards despite only playing 18 minutes a game.
In the current KenPom rankings, Minnesota has the No. 18 offense in the nation, and the No. 13 defense. Their only loss is to Duke, and they have good wins over Richmond, Memphis and Stanford. The key to the game will be the possession battle. The Gophers are the 4th best team in the nation in offensive rebounding, while FSU struggles on the defensive glass (245th). But Minnesota has to maximize the glass, because they struggle even more with turnovers than FSU (283rd to 239th).
For Florida State (4-1), who struggled against North Florida, health is the biggest issue. Ian Miller told me that he'll play tonight, which is key. FSU needs the extra ballhandler on the court to avoid prolonged lapses into clunkiness. When FSU has had a full roster (the middle three games) the offense has looked excellent. When they haven't (the games which bookend those three), they've struggled. Michael Snaer and Okaro White, FSU's leading scorers, both seem to thrive with Miller and Montay Brandon/Devon Bookert on the floor.
The game tips at 7:15 from the Tuck, and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Ken Pomeroy has the Noles as a 2-point underdog.
* Note - Matt and I are both traveling today, so don't be surprised if the post-game coverage is lighter/later than normal.