Leonard Hamilton likes to play high-profile games early in the season because it helps give his team – especially one as young as the current iteration – a taste of what things will be like in Atlantic Coast Conference play come January.
“Obviously we want to beat everybody in ACC play, but when you have the chance to play, the chance to show that your conference is better than other conferences, you want to take that chance,” junior forward Okaro White said.
But games like tonight's against Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge (7:15, ESPN2) carry implications of their own, too.
A win over Tubby Smith's twinty-first-ranked Golden Gophers would give the Seminoles their first win over a ranked opponent this season, help keep a closer-than-it-should've-been win over North Florida in the rearview mirror and give FSU another boost of momentum with a date with No. 7 Florida looming in a little more than a week.
“Obviously we want to beat everybody in ACC play, but when you have the chance to play, the chance to show that your conference is better than other conferences, you want to take that chance,” junior forward Okaro White said. “Me being here three years, I haven't won one of these games yet, so I'm taking that personally also.”
Scoring hasn't been a problem for a Minnesota – the Golden Gophers score about 75 points per game and have three players averaging double figures. Forward Rodney Williams (14.1 points per game) and guard Andre Hollins (14.0) lead the way, with Austin Hollins (11.3) isn't far behind.
But where Minnesota is most dangerous is on the boards, where it grabs an average of 31 overall and 15 offensive rebounds per game. The Golden Gophers rank 30th in the nation in rebounding.
“That's the biggest challenge of the game,” White said. “If we pretty much handle the boards, that'll strengthen our chances of winning the game.”
Doing that, however, won't be easy primarily due to the presence of Minnesota's 6-8, 245-pound forward Trevor Mbakwe. A 2011 second-team All-Big Ten selection, Mbakwe averaged a double-double and led the conference in rebounds as a junior before tearing his ACL early in his senior year. He's back now, averaging 18.3 minutes per game off the bench and has already contributed a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game to go along with 8.4 points per game.
“He's always going to get his 28 minutes or 30 minutes, so it doesn't make that much difference,” Hamilton said. “He's their best player and sometimes it's good for a guy to sit there and watch for a few minutes, but I'd venture to think that he's going to be a factor in their season because he's their best player.”
White said that the key to battling a team that's aggressive on the boards is to adopt an aggressive mentality and get physical with players who are crashing for an offensive rebound.
“The best thing to do, when you've got so many guys who are going strong to the offensive glass, an offensive rebounder doesn't like you blocking them out and hitting their legs,” he said. “When they're constantly getting hit in the legs by you trying to box them out, eventually they're going to quit going.”