When it was all said and done, last night’s win over Florida State pretty much epitomized the way this year’s Gopher teams wants to – and needs to -- play to be successful.
They relied on the two things that make them who they are – solid defense and a balanced offense – and did everything else, well, good enough. After that performance, especially in their fourth game in six days, there really isn’t a lot to criticize.
Let’s go through the aspects one-by-one:
Defense: Good D is where both teams came in hanging their hat. But the Gophers’ version won out, pressuring Florida State with a shorter bench than usual and harassing the Seminoles into 14 turnovers (which they cashed in for 26 points). FSU’s offense looked off-kilter from the start, as the Seminoles missed eight of their first 10 shots (two of which were viciously blocked by Rodney Wiliams and Austin Hollins).
Balanced offense: This is what this team does. With Trevor Mbakwe still coming off the bench and working his way back to his old self, there really isn’t a superstar, or as Joe Coleman said, an individual for opponents to focus in on. The ideal result? Four of the five starters finish with between 12 and 16 points, and the one who doesn’t net double digits (Elliott Eliason) grabs 10 boards (five offensive). Yep, that works pretty well because it forces the opponent to spread out and allows the Gophers to feed the ball to whoever breaks through.
Shooting: It isn’t necessarily one of their strengths yet, but the Gophers have certainly held their own in the last several games. On Tuesday, four first-half 3-pointers were a major factor in allowing the Gophers to create so much separation – which allowed them to play loose as the game went on and Florida State picked up its effort a little bit. The Gophers finished shooting 47.3 percent from the field, keeping their efforts pretty constant through the first half (46.7) and the second (48) even though it was clear they were looking a little fatigued near the end.
Rebounding: FSU actually out-rebounded the Gophers in the end yesterday (35-34), but the key for the Gophers was the strong rebounding early despite the Seminoles playing three seven-footers. At the half, Minnesota took the 21-16 rebounding advantage and held its own through the second half despite only four rebounds coming off the bench (all from Trevor Mbakwe). With the exception of Austin Hollins, however, everyone in the starting five got at least five boards.
Turnovers: No, a dozen blunders in a game is not what you strive for. But for a team coming in averaging 16 a game, 12 turnovers was actually somewhat encouraging – especially when they had just five in a second half that started to show signs of wear (when the turnovers usually come). They finished with 17 assists (a 1.41/1 assist-to-turnover ratio) … so that’s a step in the right direction.
At the end of a tough five-game stretch (Richmond, Duke, Memphis, Stanford, FSU – only one in Williams Arena) and four wins, the Gophers should be feeling pretty good about themselves.
And while they’re not perfect, it’s clear this team is improving, and quickly.