Last year was a disaster for Minnesota. Not only did they post the worst record school history (8-23), but they had multiple off the court incidents which gave the program loads of negative press.
But despite the train wreck, the fans stuck with them. They still drew over 10,000 per game (53% more than 20-win Florida State). And now, a year later, those fans are being rewarded by one of the surprise teams in college basketball.
A core of three returning players has been joined by a host of newcomers, and the Gophers (6-0) are off to their best start in six years.
Top 50 freshman Amir Coffey - a 6-8 shooting guard - leads the team, scoring 15.8 per game. He dropped 30 in their win over St. John’s, and backed that up with 19 against a really good Arkansas team.
The other three double digit scorers are the 3Ms, all returning players. Point guard Nate Mason (13.0 ppg, 5.5 apg), wing/point guard Dupree McBrayer (12.2 ppg, 47% 3-pt), and power forward Jordan Murphy (11.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg), give them a range of experienced weapons.
Post-grad transfer Akeem Springs, JUCO transfer Reggie Lynch, and freshman Eric Curry round up what has been a relatively shallow rotation.
The team doesn’t have much experience, but they are big and athletic.
The Gophers haven’t done anything exceptional on offense, but they take care of the ball and get to the line, and these two things can mitigate a lot of shortcomings. If you’re wondering which terrible shooter is most likely to light FSU up, I’ll go with 6-2 Nate Mason. He made 30% of his 3s last year, and is off to a 9-26 (34.6%) start this year.
On defense, they’ve been remarkably stingy in the paint. They are 11th nationally in defensive 2-pt%. Florida State’s offense is the 8th best team in that nation from inside the arc. Whoever wins this battle will likely win the game.
Their tempo is similar to Florida State’s. They like to go fast on offense, and then grind on defense. Minnesota has taken 34% of their shots in transition, where the ‘Noles are a tick faster at 35%.
Look for FSU to substitute early and often in an attempt to wear the Gophers down. Minnesota runs a ton of pick-and-roll variations, and the ‘Noles will want to switch everything, get stops, and run.
The game tips tonight at 7 PM and will be broadcast on ESPNU.