Sunday March 24, 2013 You know the Gators, so here are 10 things to know about the Gophers
Updated: 2:16pm, March 24
Updated: 2:16pm, March 24
AUSTIN, Texas -- If you're like me, you followed Big Ten basketball more than usual this season because the league was better than usual.
You watched Michigan and Indiana and Ohio State and Michigan State play on occasion, and you checked out Wisconsin when the Badgers came to the O'Connell Center.
But if we're all being honest here, my guess is that you didn't pay a lot attention to what was happening in Minnesota other than for those Percy Harvin trade rumors that finally came to fruition.
You probably knew former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith is coach of the Gophers nowadays, but if someone on the street came up and asked whom Trevor Mbakwe was, I bet it's safe to say you would have been stumped unless you really know your college hoops.
This blog is for those out there like me. I thought Mbakwe might have shared the stage with Wyclef Jean in The Fugees back in the day until I saw the 6-foot-8 forward snag 12 rebounds against UCLA on Friday night.
The Gators face Mbakwe (photo, right) and his Minnesota teammates here tonight with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
If you already knew Mbakwe was never in the Fugees, you can stop reading and move along. If not, here are 10 things to know about the Gophers:
--The Gophers are monsters on the offensive glass. They lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, snagging 43.9 percent of their missed shots. Mbakwe is a major reason why. He averaged more than three offensive rebounds per game in Big Ten play and averages 9.6 rebounds per game over his career.
--If pressured defensively, the Gophers are known to play giveaway. Minnesota is ranked 267th in the country in turnover percentage, coughing up the ball on 21.7 percent of its possessions.
--This is a big deal for the Minnesota program. The Gophers had not won an NCAA Tournament game since making the Final Four 16 years ago prior to Friday night's 83-63 win over UCLA. Of course, those wins were later vacated due to an academic fraud scandal that cost former coach Clem Haskins his job and sent the program spiraling for several years.
--In his sixth season, there is actually talk that this could be Smith's final season at Minnesota due to a 5-11 record down the stretch. However, if the Gophers defeat the Gators, according to a report Saturday in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Smith's contract calls for a $200,000 bonus and an extra year on his contract.
--Quick, name the most famous player in Minnesota basketball history. I remembered former NBA big man Mychal Thompson played there, but he's not the answer. That would be former Celtics great and current Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale (photo, left), who still owns the school record for career blocked shots.
--You will hear the name Hollins a lot tonight. As in Minnesota guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins. They are not related although both are long used to being mistaken for brothers. In fact, both grew up in the Memphis area and played at different high schools. Both wore jersey No. 20. In the box scores in the local newspaper people got confused to see A. Hollins playing for Germantown High and an A. Hollins playing for White Station High. But regardless of what you hear in Tim Brando's call in tonight's game, they are not brothers.
--The highlight of Minnesota's season came Feb. 26 when the Gophers defeated then-No. 1 Indiana 77-73 at home. Mbakwe scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Andre Hollins scored 16 points. Nine different Gophers scored in the game that set off a court storming at Williams Arena after the program's first win over a top-ranked team in 24 years.
--The Gophers are battle tested. They played 11 ranked teams during the regular season and entered the tournament with the second-best strength of schedule in the country. Minnesota improved to 6-5 against Top 25 teams with the victory over UCLA.
Gophers coach Tubby Smith directing his up-and-down team this season.
--Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins wrote this column today about a team he calls either the Good Gophers or the Good Grief Gophers. People in Minnesota want to know which team will show up tonight, the one that started the season 15-1 or the one that limped into the NCAA Tournament.
--This is Minnesota's 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament and third in six years under Smith, who is 30-15 all-time in the tournament. Meanwhile, Gators coach Billy Donovan (29-10) can match Smith's March Madness win total with a victory tonight.
--Last but not least, here is another reason you might not be as familiar with Minnesota as say, Ole Miss or Auburn or LSU. The Gators have only played the Gophers once in school history, a 74-66 loss in the first round of the 1993 NIT. The next season Florida not only qualified for the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators made it all the way to the Final Four for the first time.