The Florida State Seminoles and Minnesota Golden Gophers will meet tonight in an NIT semifinal in Madison Square Garden. At stake: a chance to play for the 2014 tournament championship.
This is a rematch of an early-seaon meeting of the two teams, a December 3rd contest won 71-61 by Minnesota in Minneapolis as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The teams also played in the inter-conference tournament in 2012, when the Gophers topped the ‘Noles 77-68 in Tallahassee. This year, each school finished seventh in its respective conference (FSU in a tie), was narrowly passed over for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, and received a No. 1 seed in the NIT.
Defensively, Florida State must limit the damage done by Andre and Austin Hollins (no relation), who combined for 37 points in Minnesota’s December victory. Gaurding against the three will also loom large– FSU is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than the Gophers, who sunk five of their first seven bombs to grab an early lead in the last meeting. The Seminoles want a more physical game, so the manner in which this game is officiated is critical– in Minneapolis, a tightly called game resulted in Minnesota attempting 38 free throws.
The offensive side presents a very different ‘Noles team this time around, primarily due to the emergence of rising sophomore star Aaron Thomas. Remember, Thomas wasn’t inserted into the starting rotation until February 5th; in the December game against the Gophers, he played 24 minutes and scored just five points. Thomas is now Florida State’s leading scorer and is getting better as the season wears on. He played 38 and 39 minutes in FSU’s last two games, and is averaging 23 points per game in the NIT.
Vegas sees this as a close one: the Seminoles are favored by a point. Tip-off is at 9 pm, and the game will be shown on ESPN2.