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

Gophers pregame: Mathieu vs. Moore will be critical matchup in NIT championship

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: April 3, 2014 - 3:55 PM

Tuesday, when Minnesota stepped on the court, it resembled a crew of boys among men, dwarfed by Florida State's size.

Through a grinding, scrapped together performance, and some hot three-point shooting,    the Gophers pulled out a win anyway, though it wasn't always pretty. Tonight they shouldn't have that problem. SMU, although arguably more talented that FSU, is a more comparable physically to the Gophers. 

The Mustangs will also challenge their speed, starting at the point guard spot. Minnesota's DeAndre Mathieu will go against SMU's Nic Moore in perhaps the most interesting matchup on the floor. Both players are new to their teams -- Moore coming from Illinois State; Mathieu from Central Arizona Colslege. Both are listed at 5-9. Both are speedy in driving to the basket and skilled finishers. Statistically, they are nearly identical. Mathieu averages 12 points and 4.1 assists. More sits at 13.5 points and 4.8 assists.

And both are probably their team's most valuable cogs. Without them, it's hard to imagine either squad advancing this far.

"There's a lot of similarity between the two," SMU coach Larry Brown said. "They are both real quick and they are both, you know real important to each team."

Which player is able to fill that role most dynamically could have a hand in the ultimate victor.

Against Florida State, Mathieu was stellar, shooting 50 percent from the field, and going 2-for-2 from behind the three-point line. The floor general's four turnovers were redeemed by his 17 points, four assists and four rebounds. 

"He's consistently, top to bottom, probably been our best player and most important and most valuable player. And you never know what that's going to be like when you bring a JUCO point guard in ... he makes us go."

In the earlier game, Moore finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists and hit the pair of free throws with four seconds left to clinch the win, but struggled some on the defensive end. His cover, Rod Hall, had an 18-point, five-assist night. Brown made it clear that the tiny point guard is the coal in the engine for SMU -- the Mustangs rise and fall with his production, much as Minnesota does with Mathieu.

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Brown said, speaking generally of Moore's impact on the team this season. "He's a competitor. He makes shots. He's really, really trying to do the things I ask him to do ... I'm sure he's going to be in for another challenge but we need him to play at a high level."

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