Minnesota will have the backing of a large crowd as Minnesota quickly sold out their allotment of tickets and many more fans have purchased tickets in many ways to support their maroon and gold just six hours away from home.
The Gophers played Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, and Amir Coffey 119 of 120 minutes in their loss to Michigan because Akeem Springs is out for the year. Richard Pitino has spent this week’s practices preparing Michael Hurt (and maybe others) for extended minutes and also prepping Amir Coffey to be on the court along with Hurt as the wings (so Mason or McBrayer can get a breather).
The Gophers will likely use Bakary Konate to play against Middle Tennessee’s back-up center Brandon Walters (6-foot-10, 262 pounds) so Pitino will likely go deeper than six guys this time. There is an outside shot (a long shot) that Stephon Sharp plays some guard minutes as well.
Middle Tennessee is pretty much everybody’s upset pick in round one. Because the Blue Raiders are 30-4 and playing well, and because Minnesota is without Springs many are going with MTSU. In the final top 25 rankings Middle Tennessee ranked out at 26 despite being a 12 seed and Minnesota ranked 27th despite being a five seed (has the national top 25 ever been more irrelevant than it is now?).
Middle Tennessee was last year’s Cinderella darling when they beat Michigan State behind the heroics of Giddy Potts who is back along with Conference USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams. Coach Kermit Davis has been the head coach of the Blue Raiders for the past 15 seasons and he was named the Conference USA Coach of the year.
Will Minnesota have the depth to deal with a Kermit Davis coached team? How will Minnesota play after a week of preparing without Akeem Springs? Will Middle Tennessee’s experience last year give them a big advantage? Can the CUSA Player of the year JaCorey Willams deal with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Lynch in the middle? So many questions that will be answered Tuesday.
Minnesota and Middle Tennessee play at three this Thursday. Before them 4 seed Butler and 13 seed Winthrop play at 12:30 so the Gophers and Blue Raiders will get a chance to see who their potential second round opponent is before they tip off. The winners will play Saturday.
The sweet 16 winner of this group would take on the four team group that is playing in Greenville, South Carolina this week. The games there are North Carolina versus Texas Southern and Arkansas against Seton Hall.
Also in Milwaukee this Thursday will be teams from the Midwest Regional. Five seed Iowa State is playing Marcus Marshall and 12 seed Nevada in the 9pm game and 4 seed Purdue faces 13 seed Vermont in the 6:30 game.
Minnesota is expected to practice today in Minneapolis and then leave for Milwaukee tonight. The Gophers will then have a public practice in front of fans from 2:15 to 2:55 tomorrow (and also their own practice at a different location). Game time is of course 3pm Thursday.