The Gophers (20-12) are heading into the tournament on a three-game losing streak, including a loss at the buzzer against Illinois at the Big Ten Tournament.
Minnesota takes on the Pac-12 champions in UCLA (25-9), a team that was among the favorites to do well this season.
When comparing the Gophers to UCLA, the contrast between the programs is obvious. Which team will have the advantage Friday night?
History: Advantage, UCLA
While the Bruins will be looking for its 100th career NCAA Tournament victory, Minnesota will be seeking its first win in the NCAA Tournament since the vacated 1997 Final Four run.
Since February, Minnesota is just 4-7 while Bruins coach Ben Howland has led his team to a 9-3 record.
UCLA is loaded with talent with several McDonald’s high school All-Americans, including freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
The Gophers have not had a five-star recruit join the program since Kris Humphries.
While the youth of the Bruins is among the question marks for the program, Minnesota is not much better. Williams is the only member on the roster that has seen action in the NCAA Tournament. He played just one minute.
Offense: Advantage, UCLA
Perhaps the biggest contrast between the programs is the way each team gets points on the board.
Minnesota relies heavily on the production of point guard Andre Hollins. When Hollins is off of his game, the Gophers are very stale offensively, and the identity of the squad is unknown.
Minnesota is also dependent on the second-chance opportunities through offensive rebounds.
On the other hand, the Bruins have the aptitude to find a quality shot and take it.
It could be the tempo that UCLA utilizes that could take the Gophers out early. Minnesota has had shaky starts to games all season long, while the Bruins are fairly even throughout the game.
The lone cause for concern for UCLA on offense will be the loss of guard Jordan Adams. The second leading scorer for the Bruins broke his leg during the Pac-12 tournament.
Defense: Advantage, Minnesota
The SWAT team will be loose on Friday night.
Williams, Trevor Mbakwe, and Elliott Eliason all block at least one shot per game for Minnesota.
Smith’s squad is one of the best blocking teams in the NCAA Tournament while the Bruins average just four blocks per contest.
Minnesota might not be able to take advantage of of loose balls against the Bruins as UCLA turns over the basketball less than any team West of the Mississippi River.
Rebounding: Advantage, Minnesota
Rebounding is the biggest asset Minnesota has against the Bruins.
The Gophers have put up amazing rebounding totals this season and dominate the offensive glass better than any team in the nation.
The program gets 44.1 percent of offensive rebounds this season, and the attack of Trevor Mbakwe puts Minnesota over the top against UCLA.
The Bruins do not have the rebounding prowness that the Gophers have. Freshman Kyle Anderson is the top rebounder this year for UCLA, but he has not faced a body built like Mbkawe.
Coaching: Advantage, Tie
The seat is on fire for both team’s head coaches. Howland has not had an impressive squad come through UCLA’s historic doors since making it in the Final Four in 2008.
On the other hand, Smith has not made it past the first round as the Minnesota head coach.
The present trumps the history in college basketball.
Expectations for both programs were high at the beginning of the season, while squandering results towards the middle of the season forced the hot seat to become burning white.
The loser could be booted out of his respected athletic department, while the winner could triumph for at least one more season.
Final Tally: Minnesota, 2.5 — UCLA 2.5