#5 Minnesota Golden Gopher vs #12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Player to Watch: Reggie Lynch (8.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, .5 APG,)
Although you may have expected to see Nate Mason here, I think Reggie Lynch is a key piece in this game. Although his numbers listed above may not be eye-popping, the number to watch is his blocks-per-game, which sits at 3.5 per game. That is an astounding number, and if he is swatting shots against Middle Tennessee it will be tough for them to get into a rhythm.
X Factor: Amir Coffey’s play
Amir Coffey has been a great freshman piece for the Gophers, who came back from an 8 win season to make the Big Dance this year. He is an athletic player who can jump with the best of them, which is a great complement to his playmaking ability. If he shows up and plays well to take some load off of star point guard Nate Mason, the Gophers should be in good shape.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Player to Watch: Giddy Potts (15.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 APG)
Giddy Potts was a key piece on the team that upset the Michigan State Spartans last season, and he has continued this role this season. His three-point percentage has dropped, but he still carries a heavy scoring load for the Raiders. They have lost one game since conference play started, and they carry a nine-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. The Raiders are good, and I look forward to seeing them again on the biggest stage.
X Factor: Reggie Lynch and paint scoring
To complement a good shooting team from outside, Middle Tennessee really scores well from inside as well. Reggie Lynch does very well in the paint, and Middle Tennessee has some guards that can drive and get into some good position down low. If they can game plan around blocking expert Reggie Lynch, Middle Tennessee could feast in the paint.
Match-Up to Watch: Jacorey Williams vs Jordan Murphy
Williams is the leading scorer for the Raiders, and lives down on the low post. On the other side of it, Jordan Murphy has been solid for the Gophers. However, I look for Williams to get the best of Murphy in this matchup. He has a lot of experience against Power 5 opponents from his time at Arkansas, and has done well against better players than Jordan Murphy. He could easily cause trouble down low like I said above, and it will be interesting to see how much Reggie Lynch helps over on him.
Key Stat: Minnesota’s block percentage
Minnesota ranks 2nd in the country in block percentage. As you’ve probably gathered so far, I think this game will be won in the paint. Minnesota defends very well down low, but Middle Tennessee has a lot of their scoring in the paint. Look from the get-go to see how the paint battle goes to see where this game goes.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee 64, Minnesota 61
I like Middle Tennessee to shock the nation again this year. They are a balanced, experienced squad who I think will win in round one again.