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Middle Tennessee 81 Minnesota 72: Five Things to Know

Minnesota fell to Middle Tennessee State 81-72 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee this afternoon not getting the guard play that has led them to past victories.

One.  Mason’s Worst Day.

Nate Mason had his worst game of the season on the most important day of the season for a college basketball player, the NCAA Tournament.  He went scoreless in the first half and then sustained an injury that made things even tougher in the second half. 

Mason finished the game 1 of 7 from the arc, 2 of 10 shooting overall, and scored just five points with four turnovers.  Mason tied a season high of four turnovers today and had a season low in scoring.  It was his worst game since he scored just five points with three turnovers at Indiana last year.

Two. Lack of Guard Depth.

The two main concerns coming into the year were three-point shooting and a lack of guard depth with Kevin Dorsey transferring and Jarvis Johnson not able to play.  Akeem Springs solved that issue for most of the season with his leadership, perimeter defense, and 37 point three-point shooting leading to around ten points a game. 

His injury against Michigan State meant the Gophers had nobody to back-up Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer at the guard spots except Amir Coffey who is the starting small forward.  With Amir moving up Michael Hurt played but his three minutes were ended by a defensive play which Coach Richard Pitino became very upset over.  With Pitino not willing to use Hurt that meant the Gophers had to play walk-on Stephon Sharp in place of an injured Mason and Sharp has only played 14 minutes all season long.

As a team the Gophers shot 6 of 21 at the arc and got just 7 of 24 shooting from their backcourt.  McBrayer scored 16 points but it was on 5 of 12 shooting and two of those scores came in garbage time. Amir Coffey had 17 points and led the team but the guards did not rotate the ball enough for Amir or anybody else to get the spaced touches.

Three.  Big Man Foul Trouble.

For much of the first half things were going well.  Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy had zero fouls and the game was manageable.  Next thing you know Lynch got two fast calls and then Murphy had two.  Starting the second half Lynch picked up his third on what may have been his worst foul of the year as it was just a bad play.  Murphy picked up his third foul early as well on a bad call. 

With Murphy and Lynch sitting the Lynch shot blocking presence that bothered JaCorey Williams into four early misses and 4 of 14 shooting for the game, it just wasn’t there.  Lynch and Murphy on the bench allowed Middle Tennessee to dominate the paint with a 37-24 rebounding advantage. 

Murphy had 15 points and 9 rebounds plus Eric Curry gave the Gophers 11 points in 21 minutes.

Four.  The Kermit Davis Timeout.

At 7-0 Kermit Davis called a timeout that stopped the Minnesota momentum.  The Blue Raiders quickly scored seven points to even the game and then Middle Tennessee took control of the game. Their halfcourt execution against struggling Gopher defensive communication led to numerous open looks and attacks.  Middle Tennessee also shot nearly 49 percent from the floor and was led by an excellent 19 point, nine rebound game from Reggie Upshaw who scored several unguardable attempts. 

The Kermit Davis switching from 1-3-1 zone, to a 2-3 zone into some man to man caused the Gophers a lot of halfcourt structure issues.  The Gophers didn’t turn the ball over but the post touches became few and far between and Minnesota took way too many contested shots without ball movement. 

Five.  24-10.

The bottom line is Minnesota went 24-10 this year and was a top four finisher in the Big Ten.  They were a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament and many felt that they wouldn’t have the talent to even get on the bubble.  The Gophers played well above expectations and bring back their entire team with the exception of Akeem Springs.  They add Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris plus get Davonte Fitzgerald back from injury.

A first team All Big Ten player (Mason), a Defensive Player of the Year (Lynch), an All Big Ten Freshman (Coffey), and a Coach of the year (Pitino) all return.  Good things are ahead. 

Now the team must figure out how to replace the leadership of Akeem Springs.

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