This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Pitino must choose between an old successful trick and the current strength vs. FSU

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: March 31, 2014 - 1:44 PM

Pitino said on Monday that Elliott Eliason's injured left ankle is not progressing as expected. The starting center likely will miss Tuesday's NIT semifinal.

On Tuesday, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino will face a conundrum.

The top-seeded Gophers are set to tip-off with fellow 1-seed Florida State in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden (ESPN2; 1500-a.m.). The foe is familiar. Minnesota already downed the Seminoles on Dec. 3, when a then-surging Florida State team came to Williams Arena.

Now, Pitino will have to make a critical decision regarding the Gophers' attack.

Does he stick with the successful weapon of the past or lean on the team's best tool of the present?

In that first go-round, Minnesota was able to harness Florida State's physical lineup with  Pitino's 2-3 zone. The Gophers dared the Seminoles to shoot and when they did, it wasn't pretty. Their opponent went 2-for-10 from beyond the arc. 

It wasn't a leak-less effort -- bigs Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo combined for 17 points and nine rebounds and Leonard Hamilton's bunch gathered 30 points in the paint in all. But it was enough to contain what was then a certain mismatch.

Now potentially shorthanded for Tuesday's reunion, Pitino could be tempted to draw up the same blueprint.

The problem? Minnesota's zone just hasn't been that good for most of the Big Ten slate.

Once Pitino's signature scheme, usage of the zone dropped off about midway through the league slate. Players were having trouble rotating quickly enough when they faced teams with good ball movement. Minnesota was burned repeatedly as opponents easily solved the configuration.

"It's a tough decision," Pitino said. "I think our man has become a lot better and I think we're defending very well."

As the Gophers have adopted man-to-man defense in longer stretches, the overall effort on that end of the ball has picked up. Minnesota has allowed an opponent to make 45 percent of its shots or better just once in the last six games -- albeit against much lighter competition than the Gophers were facing in the Big Ten schedule.

Pitino said he feels the team has raised its defensive effectiveness since the second round of the Big Ten tournament, when Minnesota lost to Wisconsin while handing the Badgers a bevy of easy shots. Wisconsin made 54.5 percent of its shots from the field in that game, including 10 of 24 three pointers.

"The Wisconsin game, not only did we understand that we'll win no games if we play that type of defense, but moving forward for next year -- because we're going to have a lot of key guys back next year -- if we are committed to not being the last guy in the tournament but hopefully getting a good seed in the tournament, this has got to stop," Pitino said. "So it was just good old fashioned hard work, and understanding, more than anything that we will not win that way."

The coach said he plans to use both and make in-game adjustments as necessary, but DeAndre Mathieu said the team had mostly practicing in man-to-man.

"We have a lot of confidence in our man-to-man defense because we've played it so much lately, through different stretches in the season, we'd go man for a while, zone for a while. Lately, it's just been a whole lot of man-to-man defense."

Ultimately, the choice might not matter unless the Gophers can muster some offense.

Although the Gophers' man D has clearly taken the upper hand of the two choices, it's also far from perfect. No matter the approach, Minnesota has been vulnerable around the perimeter all season, allowing opponents to shoot 34.8 percent from that range (that ranks the Gophers 197th nationally, according to kenpom.com). In the Big Ten slate, that figure ballooned to 37.2 percent, worst in the league. And things haven't gotten better, even against lessened competition. In three NIT games, High Point, St. Mary's and Southern Miss have reeled off a stunning 42.4 percent of their offerings from downtown. 

Minnesota was able to secure those victories based on limiting shots elsewhere and simply outscoring their visitors. But if Florida State -- which ranks 28th in the nation with a 38.6 average from three-point range -- gets hot from the outside, the Gophers would have a tougher, better all-around team to contend with.

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