DRAKE at GOPHERS
Three things to watch:
LYNCH AND WOODWARD – Reggie Lynch not fouling out in his last 19 games dating back to last year is pretty amazing. Remember that he fouled out eight times in his first 13 Big Ten games last season. The 6-foot-10 senior center had five straight games with 30 minutes or more this year before being limited to 14 minutes with five points, four fouls and one block in Saturday’s 95-69 loss at Arkansas. It was by far his worst game in a long time, but Lynch has shown improvement this season. He’s averaging career highs in points (11.0), rebounds (8.1) and blocks (4.2) per game (second in the NCAA). Imagine if Lynch never transferred back home from Illinois State two years ago. Lynch felt more comfortable about transferring after talking to his former Edina High School teammate Graham Woodward, who left Penn State for Drake in 2014. Woodward, who plays Monday against his old friend, talked to Lynch about how to deal with sitting out an entire season. “He was worried about it,” Woodward said last year. “I told him it was a long year, but you still got to practice and be with the team. Going back to Minnesota was good for him, because I know how close he is with his family.” Lynch and Woodward are really close as well. They led Edina to 10 consecutive victories going into the school’s first state tournament appearance in 25 years back in 2012-13. The Hornets finished third in the state their senior season. The 6-foot Woodward is having a career year as well for Drake with 11.4 points per game in a starting role his senior season.
BENCH BOOST – Richard Pitino stepped onto the court, stared and screamed at Davonte Fitzgerald with 12:20 left in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas. Pitino was irate at Fitzgerald for missing a point-blank layup that would’ve cut the deficit to single digits. The backup junior forward threw up an awkward and off-balanced shot without setting his feet. It should’ve been an easy basket after Nate Mason found him wide open. It’s been that type of season for the Gophers when the starters leave the game. Pitino seems to be losing trust in his bench as each game passes. Minnesota’s bench was outscored 63-18 in the three losses, which includes going scoreless against Miami and producing just five points against Nebraska. In defense of the reserves, Pitino basically has a six-man rotation with Isaiah Washington the only player with consistent minutes off the bench. Minnesota is second to last among Big Ten teams ranking 245th in the country in bench minutes (29.3). Only Northwestern is worst in the conference ranking 325th (24.3) in bench minutes. Washington leads the bench in scoring with 8.1 points per game, but Fitzgerald’s emergence is critical with the lack of frontcourt depth this season. Fitzgerald, who is scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting from the field in the last four games, only averages 2.6 points this year. Freshman guard Jamir Harris is the second leading bench scorer (3.6 points per game), but he has only played a combined three minutes in the last three games, which included not coming off the bench against Arkansas. Michael Hurt and Bakary Konate are the other two reserves who typically see the floor. But Konate, a 6-11 center, is a game time decision after missing Saturday’s game with a concussion.
COMMUNICATION ON DEFENSE – The Gophers have five returning starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but they don’t look like they have played much together when it comes to team defense. At least that’s been clearly the case in the three losses this year. Opponents have been carving Minnesota up with pick-and-roll motion offenses. If defenders don’t talk on screens, then it’s almost impossible to be able to stop consistently. The starters don’t have an excuse for not being able to have chemistry defensively. Minnesota’s newcomers such as Washington, Harris and Fitzgerald aren’t used to playing together and it could take even more time to become a cohesive unit. Whether they’re comfortable with each other or not, the Gophers have to communicate. It’s a lot easier when you’re not in a loud hostile environment. The next six games at home will give Pitino’s team a great opportunity to talk to each other more on the court, especially on D.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota by 20 points. Series: Minnesota leads 12-7. Minnesota won last meeting 66-52 on the road in 1988. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.8
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 8.5
G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 14.2
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 19.9
C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 11.0
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 8.0 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 2.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 2.2 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.6 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 101-78 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers’ defensive numbers have been unimpressive to say the least through the first 11 games this season. They rank 13th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (74.0) and three-point shooting defense (38.3). In Minnesota’s three losses, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska and Arkansas averaged 86 points per game and combined to shoot 52.1 percent (99-for-190)!!! How can you win playing that poor defensively? The Gophers still lead the Big Ten in scoring offense (86.5). But they only averaged 76 points per game in their losses. Bottom line, Pitino’s team needs to make defense its identity to beat quality opponents. Plain and simple.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Graham Woodward 6-0 Sr. 11.4
G – C.J. Rivers 6-2 Sr. 6.1
G – De’Antae McMurray 6-2 Sr. 11.6
G – Reed Timmer 6-1 Sr. 22.1
F – Nick McGlynn 6-8 Jr. 11.0
Key reserves– Casey Schlatter, F, 6-10, Jr., 5.9 ppg; Noah Thomas, G, 6-2, Fr., 4.7 ppg; Ore Arogundade, G, 6-3, Sr., 6.9 ppg; Jalen Gibbs, G, 6-3, Fr., 3.9 ppg
Coach: Niko Medved 67-74 (5th season)
Notable: Leading scorer Reed Timmer is one of the best shooters in college basketball this season. Timmer, who has scored 25 points or more five times this year, is No. 3 in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (56.1) and leads the Missouri Valley Conference in free throw percentage (91.9). Timmer scored 32 points on 7-for-13 shooting from three in a Nov. 26 win against Chicago State. The New Berlin, Wis. native also scored 28 points on 16-for-18 shooting from the foul line in an 86-81 loss Nov. 18 against Colorado. The Bulldogs have made 10 or more three-pointers four times in games this season and are shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks ninth in the country.
Fuller’s prediction (9-2 picks record): Gophers 92, Drake 75. The Gophers dropped out of the top 25 rankings Monday for the first time all season, but that was probably for the best. They lost three of the last four games, including back-to-back road games at Nebraska and Arkansas by a combined 26 points. Pitino has a starting five that can play with anyone, but the bench needs to be developed before Big Ten play starts again in early January. Monday's game is the perfect opportunity to rest guys like Murphy and Mason to give Washington and Fitzgerald more playing time to build back their confidence. They will need the bench to produce more when the competition gets tougher again next month.