When the Gophers faced Syracuse last week in the first round of the Maui Invitational, it was obvious they were short-handed.
With Mo Walker serving the last game of his six-game suspension and Joey King still nursing a fractured jaw, foul trouble was a real issue. Center Elliott Eliason was forced to sit for stretches and the Orange clobbered Minnesota in the paint at times, using its sheer size to overwhelm the Gophers. Even so, Minnesota played Syracuse closely, coming within two points with two minutes to go, and ultimately losing 75-67.
Now, a similar team comes to Williams Arena in Florida State – and the Gophers will see how much of a difference the full complement of frontcourt players makes. Minnesota is still undersized, particularly against the big, physical Seminoles, who have a pair of 7-footers in Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo. Florida State is battle-tested and extremely tough. In a bit of scheduling misery for coach Richard Pitino -- "Embrace?" He asked aloud on Monday? "No. Fear? Yes. Embrace would not be the right word." -- the matchup falls immediately after returning from three games in three days on the islands.
Calling tonight’s game an incredibly demanding challenge is an understatement.
‘They’re big, they’re strong,” Pitino said of the Seminoles. “We’ve got to try to use our speed as a bit of a strength … Syracuse, it appeared they were going over our back on a lot of rebounds. They were just so much bigger. We’ve got to do a better job of blocking out and driving them back. So we’ve got to try to speed them up a little bit more and try not to get in the half court as much as possible.”
The Gophers have the advantage of being able to watch film of this Florida State team facing opponents that tried to do many of the same things Minnesota will tonight. Florida State has already played VCU – with its ‘havoc’-style basketball – and Florida, whose coach, Billy Donovan was one of the major inspirations for Pitino’s own philosophy. But the data isn’t necessarily all that encouraging.
The Seminoles won decidedly over VCU in Richmond, and then came within a single point of beating No. 15 Florida on their court.
Both opponents have many more players recruited to the specific style, and have been doing it much longer than the Gophers – and both failed to ease FSU out of its comfort zone in a meaningful way.
“I thought they did a really good job of attacking Florida’s press,” Pitino said of the Seminoles. “They did some good things to beat it, score some buckets against it. We’ve got to make them earn their buckets in my opinion. I think they’re a very talented team.”
Other notes on tonight’s game:
- Ian Miller leads Florida State off the bench with 15.1 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.2 percent shooting from three-point range. “He doesn’t start but he’s essentially their best player,” Pitino said “He’s a very good offensive player, so we’ve got to do a great job on him.”
- FSU is shooting 49.6 percent from the field overall, while holding opponents to 38.5 percent shooting.
- Don’t expect to see a short bench tonight. Pitino played a seven-deep rotation against Syracuse last week, but doesn’t plan to do that in the future. Mo Walker, of course, will be back, and Maverick Ahanmisi – who didn’t play at all against Syracuse – is likely to get in. “I didn’t play Mav and it had nothing to do with Mav as much as I just didn’t think it was the right game for him. And that’s not a knock on him, I just thought it was a better game for Malik. We didn’t play DeAndre [Mathieu] a whole lot just because of his size. I don’t want to play seven guys. I’d like to comfortably play 9, 10, 11 guys.”
- Pitino had some kind works on Monday for the loyal Gophers’ following who traveled to Maui to cheer on Minnesota in the Maui Invitational. “I think the best thing that I got out of Maui, really more than anything is our fans were awesome,” he said. “I mean, we had probably 300 people there, they were loud, they traveled well, they represent your university well. I think when kids watch you play on TV and they see all these gold shirts behind they see ‘OK, people care about this program.’”
- After playing three games in four days, the Gophers will play just five games this month. “It’s always a challenge this time of year,” Pitino said. “We talk so much about Big Ten basketball, I think they’ve got to understand, we’ve got a huge, huge game [Tuesday] vs. a great ACC opponent. This is going to be as tough a game as we’ve played. We need a great crowd, we need great support. And then as you get going and you’re only playing [five] games in a month, we can’t overlook some of the games. We could have lost to Chaminade. We were down nine in the second half. We cannot take anybody lightly. If you look around college basketball, there are more odd scores this time of year than you’re used to. We’ve got to stay sharp as much as possible.”