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The Florida State pregame article previewing Noles/Gophers

Minnesota’s toughest non conference test of the season will be tomorrow night in Tallahassee. The Gophers could potentially be short handed when they face Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Storyline

The biggest news of the Monday night tilt between Minnesota (6-0) and Florida State (5-1) is that fourth year starting Gopher center Reggie Lynch is questionable to play.  Reggie hurt his ankle against Arkansas and did not play on Friday in the win over Southern Illinois.

The junior center did warm up for the Gophers Friday night and in the warm-up sessions there was absolutely no indication that Lynch was dealing with an injury. He moved quite well in the warm-ups before being shut down for the day.

Richard Pitino said the following this morning during the open media availability,   "We've done non-contact stuff with him.  We will just see how he progresses today. I have no idea if he'll play tomorrow. I have no way of predicting the future. I hope he plays."

Based on the eye test in warm-ups on Friday the ankle seemed like it could have been played on but we in the general public have no idea how serious the injury is nor how much pain Lynch was warming up in.  Has Reggie sustained a semi-serious injury?  Or is the Gopher staff keeping things a bit in the dark as FSU prepares for their ACC/Big Ten Challenge guests? We will find out tomorrow.

Florida State is 5-1 with wins over Charleston Southern, Iona, Winthrop, Detroit, and Illinois.  The one Seminoles loss is to Temple 89-86 last Thursday in Brooklyn which was a part of the NIT Season Tip-Off event.

The Noles of course have two of the best underclassmen in the country in 6-foot-10 freshman combo forward Jonathan Isaac and 6-foot-7 sophomore wing Dwayne Bacon.  Isaac is projected as an NBA Lottery Pick while Bacon has graded out as a late round first round choice at the moment.

FSU Head Coach Leonard Hamilton has a team that is projected as a top five or six team in the ACC and a definite Sweet Sixteen potential squad.  Hamilton uses an 11 man rotation that also includes 6-foot-4 junior point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (second leading scorer last year, third this year) and 6-foot-6 sophomore wing Terance Mann.

Florida State and Minnesota are familiar opponents.  This will be the 7th meeting between the teams since the turn of the century and the 4th time they’ve played in the last five seasons.  Minnesota holds the series edge 6-4 all time and the Gophers have won the last three games.

The last time the Gophs were in Tallahassee Tubby Smith coached them to a 77-69 win.  Richard Pitino led the Gophs to a 71-61 home win in his first season as Gopher coach and later that year the Gophs beat FSU again in the NIT semi-finals.

The Numbers

Bacon and Isaac are the main scoring factors.  Bacon is averaging 18.2 points per game shooting 52 percent from the field (takes 12-13 shots a game) and 48 percent at the arc (shots five threes a contest).  Isaac has put up 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game shooting 60 percent from the floor (takes ten shots a game) and 50 percent at the arc (four threes shot per contest).

Hamilton has used an 11 man rotation every game and he isn’t just squeezing a few players in here and there to get to 11, the Noles have 11 guys averaging double figure minutes a contest.  Bacon, Isaac Rathan-Mayes, Mann, and freshman shooting guard Trent Forrest all play between 20-26 minutes a game.  Seven-foot-1 starting center Michael Ojo starts each half but then rarely gets back on the floor for the Noles.

Bacon and Isaac have been good at the arc this year but when the talented duo sits down the Noles have few three-point options.  As a team they are shooting 35.2 percent from the arc but without the projected first round picks the team has made 11 of 52 which is just over 20 percent.

Rathan-Mayes is having a terrible time hitting from deep (5 of 24) and the only other guy on the team that will shoot more than a single three a game is freshman CJ Walker (he’s made three treys total) who averages 7.3 points per game off the bench.  In other words the Noles have had only two players show they can make a three regularly.

Florida State is averaging 91 points per game and shooting nearly 53 percent from the floor as a team. They win the rebound battle by an average of five per game and they have length everywhere so they block five to six shots a contest.  They will play with 7-foot-1 Ojo or 7-foot-4 sophomore Chris Koumadje 24 minutes a game and play with Isaac in the post or 6-foot-9 236 pound senior Jarquez Smith inside the other 16 minutes.

We’ve talked at great length about how this Gopher team needs to shoot 33 percent at the arc this year as a goal based on who they have and what they did last year.  Where are they at?  They’ve made 37 of 111, which is exactly one-third of their treys or 33.3 percent. 

Akeem Springs has made 9 of 30 (30 percent), Nate Mason is at 34.6 percent from the arc, Amir Coffey has made 6 of 19 treys, Ahmad Gilbert has hit half of his eight, and Dupree McBrayer has sunk 8 of 17 for a team high 47 percent.  To stay at a third or move above it Coffey, Mason, and Gilbert need to keep shooting like they are, Springs needs to be a bit more consistent, and McBrayer has to keep being smart with his attempts like he is.

Defensively the Gophs have held a solid schedule of teams to 36 percent shooting for the season, 30 percent at the arc, they are a plus three on the glass (big improvement from last year), and the Gophs are forcing 14-15 turnovers a contest.  What also helps is that they are blocking nearly seven shots a contest.

Free throw shooting.  If you ask every Gopher fan they will complain about it.  But where do you want to be as a team from the foul line? At least 70 percent.  Minnesota is one miss from being at that mark.  The Gophers are shooting 69.6 percent as a team because Amir Coffey (76%), Nate Mason (84%), Eric Curry (81%), and Akeem Springs (78%) make their free throws.

The team needs Dupree McBrayer (58%) and especially Jordan Murphy (48%) to improve.  Reggie Lynch has made 64 percent which is solid for a big.

The Match-Ups

Working inside out let’s start by saying that based on the past and what we’ve reviewed, Gopher junior center Bakary Konate can play with Ojo and Koumadje but Konate will have to play well.  These giants score 11 points in 24-25 minutes a game combined and the Noles will to them for six or seven shots a game.  They are 60 plus percent field goal shooters so Konate needs to work to limit that.  If Lynch plays the Gophers will be at a serious edge because he is much more mobile than both the FSU bigs.

That brings things to, who guards Jonathan Isaac?  Isaac is a stretch four which creates constant match-up problems because he is very skilled and very quick.  He has a shooting touch that must be defended out to the perimeter and even when players extend to him Isaac has the length to shoot over them.  Eric Curry gives Minnesota the best match-up in terms of length and agility in defending Isaac but if Lynch isn’t playing Curry has to defend the five.

Minnesota wants Jordan Murphy on the floor so he will have to guard Isaac for much of the game. Jonathan Isaac runs as well as anybody his size in the nation and moves his feet well laterally.  He can score inside and out so Murphy has to play much, much more disciplined defensively than he has so far this year.

Where Murphy has an edge is strength.  Isaac is thin and does not work that hard around the basket.  Murphy has to be extra active and he will make an impact although Murphy’s left shoulder spin into the hook out of the post has had trouble with length which Isaac has.  Expect Murphy to score off the ball when Isaac is defending him but going one on one will be tough out of the post or facing up because Isaac moves his feet well and is very long.

Next we have the match-up that scouts will love to see: Dwayne Bacon versus Amir Coffey.  A top 6-foot-7 sophomore in the nation against a top 6-foot-8 freshman on the wing.  This will be the second game that Coffey goes against a wing as long as he is most of the contest only Bacon is much more talented than what St. John’s had.  

Bacon is an NBA level athlete who is explosive off his feet and does a great job attacking to finish. Bacon handles the ball very well much like Coffey does so you will see both players pushing off of turnovers and long boards.  Bacon’s jumper has greatly improved at the college level and he shoots with range.

Coffey has proven in the past that he can be an excellent defender on the ball and his length bothers people regularly. Another way Coffey and Bacon (great breakfast combo!) are alike is their work defensively in the passing lanes.  Bacon does not do much away from the ball and he gets overly frustrated with officials, teammates, and everyone else at times so if Coffey was to use his length to bother Bacon he can take him out of the game mentally.

Mason versus Rathan-Mayes will be interesting.  Mason is a much better shooter than Rathan-Mayes who has struggled with his jumper throughout his career.  Both players have high assist to turnover ratios so if one of the players can force a turnover out of the other three or four times they will have an edge.  Mason needs to have a 5-10, 6-11 area shooting game and avoid the 3-10 are showing while also keeping Rathan-Mayes in front of him.

When CJ Walker is on the floor expect Mason to be on him as Walker is the only player below 6-foot-4 that FSU will use.  Dupree’s length and lateral quicks would be great against Rathan-Mayer when that match-up is there.  Springs will be needed to chase Bacon when Coffey is off the floor and you can expect Springs to be on Terance Mann as well.

Prediction

Where does FSU have an edge? I can immediately think of four ways: 1) they are at home, 2) if the Gophs don’t have Reggie Lynch they won’t be able to protect the rim the way they need to, 3) the Noles are deeper, and 4) Jonathan Issac presents a big mismatch.

Minnesota’s edge?  I think the Gopher guards are better shooters and more versatile and don’t look past a confidence edge of Pitino already beating Hamilton a couple of times.  Also, the Gophs have Coffey to defend Bacon and this is a game where we will really see where Amir Coffey is at compared to the other top talent in the nation.

Can the Gophs pull off the win?  FSU beat Illinois because the Illini couldn’t turn FSU over or stop the FSU guards from playmaking.  From there Bacon and Isaac had all the space needed to make plays especially on the perimeter and therefore they shot a high percentage inside and out.   Temple beat FSU because they limited the Noles on the offensive glass (Minnesota has not shown they can consistently limit the opposition from offensive boards) and they shot extremely well at the arc (Gophs are doing okay in this area but you can’t count on good perimeter shooting games yet) among other things.

I give the Noles the edge because of Lynch either being out or not healthy, and because Isaac gives FSU a big edge up front.  I believe Coffey will match Bacon but FSU’s guards are deeper and Murphy has not been a consistent defender so expecting him to limit a much taller Isaac based on what we’ve seen is a stretch. 

FSU 80 Minnesota 75


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