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Scoggins: Mason, Gophers struggle on big stage

MILWAUKEE – Nate Mason earned first-team all-Big Ten honors this season by being a rock for the Gophers men’s basketball team.

Mason is their best player, their leading scorer and the guy who needed to provide a steady performance in the NCAA Tournament for the Gophers to have a chance to advance.

The opposite happened. Mason had a nightmarish outing as the Gophers looked disjointed for all but a brief spurt late in the second half before losing 81-72 to Middle Tennessee State.

Mason went scoreless in the first half and finished with five points – 10 below his season average.

His backcourt mate Dupree McBrayer also went scoreless in the first half until making a corner three-pointer with 20 seconds left before halftime.

Collectively, the Gophers simply didn’t rise to the occasion.

MTSU’s matchup zone and 1-3-1 trap gave the Gophers fits all game. And Minnesota’s defense was uncharacteristically leaky, which allowed MTSU to get wide-open shots.

I’ll have more later in my column.  

Scoggins: My game-day prediction: Gophers win

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.

We will have a live blog up and running during the game. Please join us here.

TV Listings

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Today's Scoreboard

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