Don't fear the Steer: Gophers vs. Texas preview
Feed him nothing
Gauging by mileage at least, Thursday night (at 6:10pm CST) will prove a home game for the Gophers. Minneapolis is 66 miles closer to Greensboro, N.C. than Austin, Tex. Will that result in more backers showing up for the 10th seeded Gophers? Hell, will the G-Men even show up themselves?
I believe they will. And I believe they will win.
A great many parallels exist between the Gophers and Longhorns. As I noted previously this week, both clubs, in short, had two fine months followed by two pedestrian months. Texas was 9-7 in the Big 12; Minnesota was 9-9 in conference play. Texas climbed as high as 5th in the AP before falling out; Minnesota ascended to 18th and is no longer ranked. Texas won 22 games on the season; Minnesota won 22. Both teams led their respective conferences in blocks per game; both were last in 3-point shooting percentage. Both lost to Michigan St., with the Gophers doing so twice. Texas had the nation's 36th ranked Strength of Schedule; Minnesota came in at 35. Sources close to the clubs inform me both teams eat Kashi for breakfast.
Despite the yeoman success of 10 seeds in the first round (winning at a 40 percent clip) since the NCAA field expanded in 1985, odds makers stamped the Gophers as 4 point underdogs. I'm going the other way.
While Texas may sport four guys averaging double-figure point averages on the season - compared to just one for Minnesota - the Longhorns appear more reliant on their leading scorer, impressive guard A.J. Abrams, than the Gophers do on Lawrence Westbrook. Abrams goes for 16.3 per contest, although Texas is a tepid 10-8 on the season when he falls below that average. In the slower-paced Big Ten, Westbrook was good for 12.4 per, however when he scores 13 or more Minnesota is a lights-out 15-2. 13 damn points - that basically asking for one 3-pointer, four free throws, and three baskets within the arc.
Of most sanguine note for my dollars is that those aforementioned four scorers for Texas account for 72 percent of their points. On the season, Texas had multiple double-digit point efforts from their bench via just two dudes: center Dexter Pittman did it four times off the pine; forward Gary Johnson did it a solid 11 times. Yet it's well worthy of note that Pittman started 22 games on the season, including the last four.
The Gophers? They sported eight different guys who came off the bench to score double-digit points on multiple occasions. True, Westbrook led that charge with seven such efforts, however it's well-worthy of note to recall that Devron Bostick did so six times, Blake Hoffarber did it five times, both Devoe Joseph and Paul Carter did so four times, and Lil' Ralphy Sampson did it three times.
Therein, for me, lies the rub. Texas was just 3-8 when held to 70 or fewer points on the season. Tubby's trademark D has surrender that 70 mark just twice in the Gopher's last 13 games and hasn't given up more than 67 points in Minnesota's last six contests.
Should the Gophers be able to clamp down on Abrams, limit turnovers, get a strong combined showing from Westbrook & bench, and draw enough fouls (Westbrook again) to force Texas to rely on their own subs - I really like our boys to advance to the round of 32.
Prediction: Minnesota 64 Texas 62
Kudos as well to the Gopher women (19-11) who earned a #10 seed themselves. They go on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm CST against the women from Notre Dame (22-8), in South Bend, Indiana (not good - that's their home floor. Ouch).