Florida Atlantic at GOPHERS
Three things to watch:
LYNCH PIN – Gophers senior center Reggie Lynch is averaging career highs in points (10.2), rebounds (7.9), blocks (4.2) and minutes per game (26.6) this season. He also hasn’t fouled out in one game. So why was Richard Pitino so furious at Lynch on the sidelines throughout Thursday’s win against Oral Roberts? It’s because Lynch has the ability to dominate games physically in the paint, but he wasn't playing tough enough against another opposing big man. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Edina native hasn’t scored in double figures in four straight games. He’s averaging just 6.5 points on 38 percent (8-for-21) shooting from the field during that stretch, which included only five points on 1-for-5 shooting against Oral Roberts in 27 minutes. If there’s a game where Lynch can get his mojo back it might be Saturday. He’ll need to be at his best against 7-foot, 245-pound Florida Atlantic senior Ronald Delph (13.5 ppg and 9.4 rpg), who has scored in double figures in six straight games. Delph, a transfer from Auburn, has three double-doubles this season, including 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win against Northern Illinois. He also had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks in a loss to Texas Tech. These are the type of frontcourt matchups that will prepare Lynch for the Big Ten.
BOXING OUT – The Gophers are one of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten at 42.5 per game, third in the conference. So why have they struggled so much keeping opponents off the boards? They rank 12th in the league allowing 36.9 rebounds per game. The simple answer is they’re not boxing out consistently. It’s a team issue. But the best example was to open Thursday’s game against Oral Roberts, Jordan Murphy and Lynch both gave up four offensive rebounds in the first few minutes. The Golden Eagles were the second team this season to win the rebounding battle against Minnesota 45-41, which included 17 offensive rebounds. Pitino met with Murphy over the 10-day break to talk about improving as a defensive rebounder. He already leads the nation in rebounds with 12.8 per game. Imagine if Murphy became a master at boxing out on the defensive end as well. Florida Atlantic resembles a Big Ten team’s size with four players standing 6-9 or taller. The Owls can also crash the boards ranking third in Conference USA in rebounding offense at 39.4.
HOT COFFEY – Gophers sophomore guard Amir Coffey has scored in double figures in eight straight games. The 6-foot-8 former Hopkins star is averaging 16.7 points on 36-for-41 shooting (87.8 percent) from the free throw line in the last six games. Coffey moved to the shooting guard position for the first time this season Thursday with Dupree McBrayer sidelined with a lower left leg injury. Coffey is arguably the team’s best passer and with the ball in his hands more against Oral Roberts, he finished with a team-high seven assists and just one turnover. Coffey might struggle at times keeping smaller and quicker guards in front of him, but he’s a terror in the passing lanes. A steal and transition dunk Thursday against Oral Roberts helped to ignite a 25-4 run that sealed the Gophers’ second straight victory. McBrayer is out Saturday for the second straight game. But when he returns will Pitino keep Coffey at the starting two-guard spot long term?
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota by 20.5 points. Series: Minnesota leads 1-0. Minnesota won last meeting 95-45 at home on Dec. 28, 1997. TV: Big Ten Network Online/Live video: BTN Plus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.4
G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 14.4
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.6
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 20.0
C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 10.2
Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, Jr., 8.2 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.8 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 2.5 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.0 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.2 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.8 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 103-78 (6th season)
Notable: Junior Jordan Murphy has streak of 13 straight games with a double-double. The Big Ten record for consecutive double-doubles is 23 by former Ohio State All-American Jerry Lucas in 1960-61. Former Purdue star Caleb Swanigan, who was the Big Ten player of the year last season, set the conference record for single-season double-doubles with 28. On Thursday, Murphy became the first Gopher player since Rodney Williams Jr. in 2013 to join the program’s career 1,000-point, 500-rebound club.
Florida Atlantic (6-5)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Anthony Adger 6-1 Jr. 9.1
G – Gerdarius Troutman 6-3 Sr. 13.3
F – Jailyn Ingram 6-7 So. 8.6
F – William Pfister 6-10 Sr. 3.2
C – Ronald Delph 7-0 Sr. 13.5
Key reserves– Justin Massey, G, 6-4, Sr., 14.1 ppg; Payton Husley, G, 6-5, Sr., 6.4 ppg; Amir Smith, F, 6-6, Jr., 3.7 ppg; Je’Quan Perry, G, 6-4, Jr., 2.4 ppg; Simeon Lepichev, F, 6-9, Jr., 2.6 ppg
Coach: Michael Curry 33-70 (4th season)
Notable: The Owls won just 10 games last season, but have shown improvement in Year 4 under coach Michael Curry, a former NBA player and coach. Curry replaced the late Flip Saunders as Detroit Pistons’ head coach in 2008-09. He coached a Pistons squad with Allen Iverson, Richard Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace for one season and was swept in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Curry was replaced the following season and didn’t reach the playoffs again until 2016.
Fuller’s prediction (11-2 picks record): Gophers 90, Florida Atlantic 75. The Owls are the sixth straight home opponent for the Gophers who won 10 games or fewer last season. Niagara (10-23), Western Carolina (9-23), Alabama A&M (2-27), Drake (7-24) and Oral Roberts (8-22) all had some of the worst records in their respective programs’ history last year. Not exactly great competition for Minnesota this season. That contributed to Pitino’s nonconference strength of schedule ranking No. 248 nationally by advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy. Having to play Providence, Nebraska and Arkansas on the road and Alabama at a neutral site and Miami (Fla.) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge made it a tougher schedule than it appears on paper. But the Gophers can’t afford any losses to opponents like Florida Atlantic on Saturday. The way they played defensively Thursday was a good sign holding Oral Roberts to 39 percent shooting from the field, but the Gophers still aren’t playing the way offensively they did to open the season averaging 95 points in their first five games. Could they break out of that funk this weekend?