ACC / Big Ten Challenge: Minnesota Smothers Florida State in Tallahassee

Minnesota was the ACC’s problem this week, but the Golden Gophers will be a thorn in the Big Ten’s side in the forthcoming months. Let Tuesday night’s dominant performance in Tallahassee serve as fair warning to future Big Ten schools about the under-the-radar program ready to crash the league.

The Gophers steamrolled a solid, albeit unspectacular, Seminoles team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday, showing no signs of fatigue despite playing their fourth game in six days. Minnesota used a steady balance of stingy defense, timely outside shooting, off-ball cutting action and top-flight athleticism with which Florida State couldn’t match up to pick up an early signature road win in a hostile environment.

Overlook Tubby Smith’s team at your own peril. Just don’t say you weren’t warned when the team is battling the likes of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State to the wire. These Gophers are for real.

Nov 27, 2012; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Rodney Williams Jr. (33) dunks the ball during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

Playing above the rim. Good luck to future opponents wishing to match Minnesota athletically. As Florida State learned first-hand—and FSU is darn athletic itself—that task is only reserved for the top three or four athletic teams in the land. Rodney Williams Jr. is a physical specimen with pro-ready athleticism (his outside game is improving too). Andre and Austin Hollins can fly, Joe Coleman can soar and, once he’s fully recovered from his torn ACL, Trevor Mbakwe is among the most athletically able big men in college hoops. Florida State struggled with Minnesota’s high-leapers and speedy ball-handlers all night. The end result: an otherwise athletic team made to look immobile by the Gophers.

Dominant interior D. Minnesota’s sturdy interior defense prevented Florida State from going to its bread and butter: scoring in the paint. With Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks no longer part of the fold, the Noles are not equipped to win from the perimeter, which is precisely what the Gophers forced them to do. FSU jacked up 16 treys, unable to set up shop down low because of the job Williams Jr. and center Elliott Eliason did altering shots. Minnesota swatted six shots in all, but altered at least a half dozen more.

Coleman emerges.  Tubby Smith had little idea what to expect from sophomore guard Joe Coleman heading into the season. From what he’s seen of the Minnetonka native so far, it’s safe to say Smith is pleasantly surprised. Coleman is the best slasher on a team which last year lacked players who moved well without the ball. He’s not much of a perimeter threat yet, but Coleman is an athletic 2-guard adept at getting open away from the ball and attacking the tin with the ball in his hands. Coleman is also a lockdown defender who, by year’s end, could be one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten short of Aaron Craft.

Polished offensively. Let’s be blunt. This isn’t the 2011-12 Gophers, which looked disjointed and discombobulated for most of last season in their half-court offense. Even without Mbakwe back at full strength, Minnesota is crisper, more diverse and less predictable in their half-court sets. Clearly, playing a full year without the team’s star forward allowed Minnesota’s veterans to broaden their individual games and mesh as a unit. Andre Hollis is a different animal with the ball in his hands, and the Gophers as a team are getting better dribble penetration out of their guards. Joe Coleman’s emergence has been vital, as has been the improved shooting of Williams. Minny’s new-look offense is replete with capable shooters, willing cutters and guards who seem more comfortable on the dribble-drive. Just wait until the team’s No. 1 post option is back in midseason form.

Building an impressive résumé. Minnesota’s only loss of the young season came against the quasi No. 1 team in the land on a neutral floor. The Gophers fell to a strong Duke team that shot the lights out from the perimeter. There wasn’t more than two or three teams in America capable of silencing the Blue Devils on that night. The Gophers own marquee wins over Memphis (neutral floor), Stanford (neutral floor) and now Florida State on the road. With games against South Dakota State and an improved USC team still to come, the Gophers could have a solid non-conference résumé to boast, with the lone loss coming against the nation’s No. 2 ranked team. That’s marked improvement from last year’s non-conference slate, which lacked the requisite quality opponents to impress the selection committee (though the Gophers ultimately missed the tournament because of their poor work in conference play instead).

Topics: Basketball, Florida State Seminoles, Minnesota Golden Gophers

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