MILWAUKEE – The Gophers enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed and as underdogs. Middle Tennessee State has become a trendy pick as a 12th seed.

My editor Chris Carr uncovered a stat that found 12 seeds have been favored six times in tournament history and none since 1999. So this is fairly uncommon.

I understand the reasons – MTSU’s tournament experience, the history of 12th seed upsets, injury to Akeem Springs – but I still think the Gophers win today.

My official pick: Gophers by 5 points.

I seem to be in the minority, but I give the nod to the Gophers because of their defense. Even without Springs, the Gophers’ overall size is disruptive on the defensive end. I don’t know if MTSU faced that kind of length consistently this season.

I wrote in my column today things I believe have to happen for the Gophers to win. I’ll boil it down to two key points, in my opinion:

Reggie Lynch must stay out of foul trouble and Nate Mason needs to play like a first-team All-Big Ten selection. No big surprises there.

The Gophers depth is an issue. They can’t afford foul trouble. It will be imperative that Lynch and Jordan Murphy get a feel for how the game will be officiated early in the game.

The Gophers are a physical team but their post players can’t afford to pick up quick fouls by being overly-physical. They have to find that line.

As for Mason, if he has a strong performance, I think the Gophers will win. He doesn’t necessarily need to lead the team in scoring, but he must assume more leadership responsibilities on both ends with Springs sidelined.

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