Breaking Down the Gophers

Matchups between eight and nine seeds never lack for intrigue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But a pair of playmaking guards at Iowa State and Minnesota will add some extra spice to this year's Syracuse Regional contest.

ISU's Curtis Stinson and Minnesota's Vincent Grier drew some comparisons from Gopher head coach Dan Monson on this week's Big 10 teleconference.

"If you're in the Big 12 and you wanted a great comparison, you would say he's a lot like Stinson at Iowa State," said Monson. "I really think they have similar games and have done a lot of the same things to put their teams in a position to be in the NCAA tournament. I just think it's a huge compliment to both players." Both standout guards deserve the respect they're getting.

Stinson led the Cyclones back to the Big Dance after a three-year absence with averages of 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 2.4 steals per outing. Grier, who will be returning home to Charlotte, was just as dangerous for opponents and averaged nearly 18 points to go along with 5.3 rebounds a game.

But both players will need some help in order to advance to Sunday's second round. The Cyclones and Gophers are particularly strong on the perimeter.

ISU's Will Blalock and Tasheed Carr will need to find their shooting touch early to take some pressure off of Jared Homan inside. Blalock has endured a March shooting slump and has missed 18 consecutive 3-point attempts. Carr could be the X factor however, since the Cyclones have played well in games he has found his shot.

Against the Cyclones' 2-3 zone, the Gophers will look for a big game from Aaron Robinson, their top 3-point shooter. He averaged just 8.3 points a game this season, but drained 66-of-162 shots from beyond the arc (40.7 percent). Robinson has started to heat up down the stretch and has made at least four 3-pointers in four of Minnesota's last five games.

ISU may have its biggest edge inside with senior center Jared Homan going up against former Gopher walk-on Jeff Hagen, who's also a senior. Homan averaged 13.4 points and 8.2 rebounds this season and is a presence in the paint. The Iowa native has scored in double figures in 14 of the last 17 games, and has 10 double-doubles this season.

Taking care of the ball and getting good looks at the basket are two more keys.

Pressure versus pressure should make for an interesting matchup between ISU and Minnesota. The two teams like to force their opponents into mistakes with pressure. Minnesota did just that by setting a school record with 283 steals. Three different players (Brent Lawson, Vincent Grier, and Aaron Robinson) were among the league's top 15 in steals.

The Gophers will also contest shots, and led the Big 10 in field goal percentage defense (42.4) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.4). That strong defense allowed them to rank third in the Big 10 in scoring defense (62.8 points). When allowing fewer than 70 points a game, Minnesota is 20-4 this season.

ISU forced 18.1 turnovers in conference play this season, while only turning the ball over around 13 times a game. For a team that loves the transition game and struggles in a half-court set, it will need to force the Gophers into some mistakes on Friday.

With a six-man rotation, the Cyclones will need to stay out of foul trouble. Minnesota also lacks a deep bench, but will go eight players deep.


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