Minnesota at Florida State
Minnesota (3-0) has a rather soft early-season schedule other than this matchup with Florida State, and the Golden Gophers are undefeated through three games. To their credit, however, they did go on the road to Iowa State in their most difficult of the first three games and the Gophers came away with the victory. We’ll have much better idea of what they’re made of after going into hostile Seminole territory.
The most notable change in Minneapolis, course, is that former Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith is now roaming the sideline. He places Dan Monson, who cleaned up the mess left by Clem Haskins but took the Gophers to just one NCAA Tournament in seven seasons. Smith takes over a ballclub that went 9-22 last season (3-13 Big 10) and closed out the year on a nine-game losing streak.
The good news (or is it?) is that Minnesota returns all five starters from its 2006-2007 campaign. Three seniors—guard Lawrence McKenzie, forward Dan Coleman, and center Spencer Tollackson—will lead the way for the Gophers. Point guard Kevin Payton has the size (6-5) to cause mismatches at the position, but he must cut down on his turnovers and play more under control in order for the offense to run smoothly. That will be the key to coach’s Smith inaugural season in Minnesota.
Florida State (5-2) has already played seven games and while it should be easier to get a read on a team that has played a lot of basketball, that’s hardly the case with these Seminoles. At the Glenn Wilkes Classic in Daytona Beach they lost games to Cleveland State and South Florida. The Seminoles promptly bounced right back by going into Gainesville, home of the two-time defending NCAA Champion Florida Gators, and winning by 14 points. Interesting to say the least.
Florida State would certainly be a lot more consistent if it still had 6-7 forward Al Thornton at its disposal, but Thornton graduated last year and took his talents to the NBA. The good news for coach Leonard Hamilton is that he returns the other four starters from a team that just missed out on the NCAA Tournament—the second straight year the team had its bubble burst. Point guard Toney Douglas, who missed significant time last season with a broken left wrist (otherwise the ‘Noles would have made the NCAA Tournament), will be the leader of what should be one of the best backcourts in the ACC. Seniors Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann add to the Seminoles’ perimeter firepower and should give opposing defenses fits in attempting to contain FSU.
Two freshman big men, Solomon Alabi and Julian Vaughn, will help offset the loss of Thornton. Sophomore Ryan Reid and junior Uche Echefu will also see increased roles for the Seminoles. As long as Hamilton gets just something out of his low post players, the veteran leadership and skill of the perimeter players could be enough to get the ‘Noles over that hump and force the committee to put them in the tournament.
If they are already worried about their post-season resume, it would behoove the Seminoles to prevent what the committee could treat as a “bad loss”—that being a home loss to Minnesota. Don’t count on the upset happening. Florida State should be playing with renewed confidence after the huge win in Gainesville and a loss to the Gophers would be almost as surprising as, say, a loss to Cleveland State in Daytona Beach. Even though Minnesota’s corps of players has plenty of experience, it will probably take a while to adjust to Tubby Smith’s new system and also to restore confidence following such a poor 2006-2007 campaign. This Minnesota squad could be decent by the middle of the season, but right now it is not a team that can go into Tallahassee and win a marquee basketball game. The difference on both ends of the floor, among others, will be Toney Douglas. Look for the Seminoles to force too many turnovers out of Minnesota’s guards for the Gophers to stay in the game.
The pick: Florida State by 13.