(6) UCLA vs. (11) Minnesota
(6) UCLA Bruins
After a 5-3 start to the year, with one of those losses coming to Cal Poly, the preseason hype surrounding the Bruins (25-9, 13-5) quickly died down. Bruins head coach Ben Howland once again came under fire and there were questions about whether or not his heralded freshmen class could thrive in his system. Those questions were answered as the Bruins won 10 straight from Dec. 8-Jan.17 and won the Pac 12 regular season championship. In freshmen guards Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, the Bruins had two of the most explosive players in the country. However, Adams is out for the tournament with a broken foot. That leaves the Bruins with just three healthy guards. Senior guard Larry Drew II’s 7.7 assists ranked third in the country, but he’s not their only playmaker as freshman Kyle Anderson has clearly established himself as a point forward more than anything. Unlike some previous Bruins teams, this year’s group looks to outscore their opponents more so than with tenacious defense. They don’t shoot the three-point shot particularly well, though, and were outrebounded by their opponents on the year. From a talent standpoint, the Bruins can match up with any team in the country. Their success will be determined by how this young group handles playing on the big stage and whether or not they can get stops when they need them. They’re looking to get past the Round of 32 for the first time since 2008.
(11) Minnesota Golden Gophers
At the beginning of the season, the Golden Gophers (20-12, 8-10) were one of the hottest teams in the country. They were in the top 25 and looking like a real threat to compete for a title in the Big 10. They started off league play well enough, picking up notable wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Then everything just went downhill in a major way. The Golden Gophers would go on to lose nine of their next 16, slumping about as bad as a team could going into the tournament without actually losing their spot. Their schedule, which was the second-most difficult in the country, had a lot to do with it. Talent is not their issue. The unrelated Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins give them a solid backcourt and Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe on the frontline are likely to get selected in the 2013 draft. This team’s chemistry just isn’t where it was at the beginning of the year. They turn it over in excess, nearly 14 times a game, and only shoot 68 percent from the line. Those habits really come back to haunt them late in games. They finished the year averaging 69 points a game with a 5-8 mark against the RPI top 50. If they get matched up with a team that is stiff defensively, it could be an early exit for the Golden Gophers.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: UCLA. The loss of Jordan Adams is huge for the Bruins, but the Golden Gophers have struggled too much in the second half of the season to go with.