Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gopher Mens' NCAA First Round Preview

The Gophers snagged the 10 seed in the East (or Boston) Regional and will play the seventh-seeded Texas Longhorns in first round action Thursday evening in Greensboro, NC. The winner of this game will play the winner of the Duke/Binghamton match up on Sunday afternoon, also in Greensboro.

The two teams had almost identical records in 2008-09, with the Gophers going 22-10 (9-9, eighth in the Big Ten) and the Longhorns finishing 22-11 (9-7, sixth in the Big 12). UT scored an average of 72.2 points per game, while allowing 65.5; the Gophers were 66.5 and 61.1, respectively. Scoring-wise, Texas is led by A.J. Abrams (16.3 a game) and Damion James (15.4, plus 9.2 rebounds a game), while Minnesota is paced by Lawrence Westbrook (12.4) and Damian Johnson (9.7). Minnesota has the edge in depth with eleven players averaging double digits in minutes; Texas has eight. In fact, Abrams and Justin Mason averaged over 30 minutes a night (the Gophers had nobody over 26).

Texas featured quality non-conference wins against Oregon, UCLA, Villanova, and Wisconsin. In the Big 12, the Horns played four ranked teams, going 1-3 in those games. The conference schedule featured a three-game winning and three-game losing streak - nothing greater. Its run in the Big 12 Tournament included wins against Colorado and Kansas State, before coming to an unexpected end against Baylor.

Here is how ESPN.com's Andy Katz summarizes the Longhorns:

Hardest team to figure: Texas. The Longhorns were once an elite team, beating Villanova and Wisconsin. But the Longhorns have been reliably inconsistent throughout the season. If they figure themselves out, they could make the Sweet 16 by beating Minnesota and Duke.

The key for the Gophers in this one is to contain Abrams and limiting James's opportunities inside. The same tried and true applies to the Gophers: They need to take care of the basketball, play perimeter defense, run the court, and create turnovers leading to transition opportunities. It'll be interesting to see how Tubby's young team responds to the pressure that is March Madness.

Coming Thursday, I'll offer my fearless predictions - and maybe even link my bracket!

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