"Big 10 is the best conference in the nation and some of the best defense in the nation," sophomore guard Andre Hollins told the national media on Saturday, the day after the big non-conference win. We're playing against Big 10 teams night in and night out and it wears on you. People know your tendencies, they know when you're good at, and the scouts are really good.
"So (there's) a difference playing against non conference teams, because we get a different feel and the opponents aren't as knowledgeable about what we're doing."
Junior guard Austin Hollins agreed.
"It's a real grind in conference play when you're playing against all those Big 10 teams and you know everyone's out to get you. At any given night, anyone can come in and win a game.
"…some of the best defensive teams in the country are in (the Big-10). So it's nice getting out of conference play and being able to play against schools out of the other conferences.
The Gophers also expect to get a physical game from Florida, a team that is in the top three in scoring defense, number seven in field goal percentage defense, and top 30 in a couple of other national categories.
"I'm sure coach is going to emphasize that a lot," senior forward Rodney Williams said of Florida's physical play. "The Big 10's a really physical conference and it's not something that we're not used to. So we're going to go out there and play just like any other team that we played in the Big 10."
Minnesota is eighth in the nation in rebounding margin, needless to say it is something they do well. Senior Trevor Mbakwe leads the team with 8.8 rebounds per game. Gophers' coach Tubby Smith would like his team be a little more consistent on the boards than they are, he says especially against a team like the Gators.
"Well I think he had about 12 rebounds last night," Smith said. "But our point guard had eight. So that's a good thing. We kind of have been a good rebounding team, but we sometimes rebound, sometimes we don't. Yeah, we work pretty hard on rebounding. I'm sure that Billy (Donovan) does too. His teams, they rebound the ball well also.
"I think that we have, especially (against UCLA), we got good production from Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker inside, so that was a big help from a rebounding standpoint. But we did give up quite a few second shots and that's a real concern, especially playing a team like Florida. They're very athletic, very quick to the ball, so we have got to really work extremely hard to box them out, especially if we're in a zone or a man to man, because they, they're pretty aggressive going to the basket. And we are too.
"That's something we do well, probably because we don't shoot the ball well. We have to go get the second shot, there's a lot more second shots for us. Last night there weren't that many, thank goodness. So that when you shoot over 50 percent it helps that you don't have to rebound the ball as well offensively. But that's something that we have developed over the years, especially over this year, and we have been pretty good at it."
Smith and Florida head coach Billy Donovan have worked together and coached against each other for a great deal of their careers. Smith has a lot of respect for what Donovan has done as the Florida coach and the way he has built his program.
Florida is pretty efficient on the offensive side of the ball and can shoot the long ball, but Smith says the Gators are built on their defense.
"His teams always play good defense," Smith said of the Gators and Donovan. "I don't know, you can't win consistently without playing outstanding defense. I think he plays multiple defenses and presses and forces turnovers."
"I think one thing I'm impressed with this team that he has now, is their ability to force tempo, turn you over, push it in the open court, shoot the three. We're really going to have our hands full trying to defend them. But that's the biggest concern I have is just their defense. Because they will press you, speed you up, and we have a propensity to cough the ball up, so we really need to concentrate on taking care of the ball.
"His teams always defend well. I know when he had some of his great teams that won championships, they were great defensive teams. This team is pretty good also. You don't win 27 games not playing defense.
Minnesota was effective in the zone against UCLA, who as we said didn't shoot well on the night. Smith believes his boys will have to play some man defense as well against Florida.
"Well they're a pretty good 3 point shooting team," he said of the Gators. "UCLA (was) off on their 3 point shooting last night. So I don't think you can give Florida a steady diet of anything defensively. We got to change it up, try to keep them off balance as best we can.
So we'll try to mix it up in some form or fashion. And the zone will probably be a part of it."
Gophers on Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin
One of Florida's two-way stars is Scottie Wilbekin. Wilbekin plays defense like he loves it and spends a great6 deal of time harassing the opposition when they have the ball. That isn't to take away from his offensive skill, he is a deft shooter from outside and he can take it to the basket and dish to his teammates as well.
"I'm just impressed with his all-around game," Smith said of Wilbekin. "He does some good things. He's a pretty crafty guard that can really deliver passes to people, he can stretch the defense with his ability to shoot the ball, and again, he's shooting for a very good percentage.
"We have got to find a way to contain him as best we can. But I'm very impressed with his ability to defend as well. He's got a little bit of Aaron Craft in him, from Ohio State, that he really takes a lot of pride in his defense."
Andre Hollins will be matched up a lot with Wilbekin. He knows what kind of game Wilbekin possesses.
"He's a quick defender, he keeps his hands active, he moves his feet well," Hollins said. "He's a solid PG. I have to contain him and I have to protect the ball like any other game.
Hollins also compared Wilbekin's game with Craft's.
"I played against one of the best defensive guards in Aaron Craft," he said. "Just going up against him, you have to be a little bit more decisive with your moves and how you're going to attack, because they're really good defenders, they move their feet well… just be a little bit more secure with the ball. I think that works well with me. I won't make any careless turnovers, like I do sometimes."