MILWAUKEE, Wis. (WCCO) – The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team might be a No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament, but they are the underdogs.

Not only now in the minds of the odds-makers, but for lots of folks filling out their brackets, for two reasons: No. 12 seeds often pull off first-round upsets, and Middle Tennessee State did exactly that to Michigan State a year ago in the first round.

So is head coach Richard Pitino using this as so called bulletin board material — the no respect card for Minnesota?

It usually comes down to guard play in NCAA Tournament games. The Gophers have the quality, but with the loss of Akeem Springs, they lack the quantity.

The Gophers really only have two experienced guards coming in: Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason. It might not be ideal, but they have to carry the load and that means major minutes.

“It’s not ideal to play two guys 40 minutes and one guy 39 minutes so I’d like to not do that,” Pitino said.

Mason is not that concerned about minutes. He is concerned about what happened when they got beat by Michigan.

“It’s going to be hard but we’ve just got to make sure everyone is locked in from the start of the game. We can’t start off like how we did against Michigan,” junior guard Nate Mason said.

But the truth is he may not come out as long as the game is close. There’s too much to lose.

“He’s played a bunch of minutes to begin with. I don’t know what he’s averaging but it’s got to be 35 or 36 and he’s well-conditioned,” Pitino said. “So I just kind of watch for it.”

And the truth is, he’s young, confident and feels invincible. It’s the way you should feel going into the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely can handle the pain. I’m prepared to play 40 minutes if coach needs me to play 40 minutes. I’ll be ready,” Mason said.

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