GOPHERS vs. Rutgers

Three things to watch:

BALL MOVEMENT – When the Gophers are at their best they’re moving the ball and unselfish offensively. When they’re at their worst, players go 1-on-1 on every possession and if you see an assist it probably happened on accident. In Wednesday’s 86-81 loss against No. 10 Miami (Fla.), Minnesota had only 12 assists (three in the first half), which was the second fewest all season. The Gophers played without starting junior guard Dupree McBrayer, who averaged 9.3 points and 3.6 assists per game. McBrayer’s replacement was freshman Isaiah Washington, who scored 14 points and had three assists. So why was everyone watching the game so frustrated with his performance? It was Washington’s 6-for-17 shooting (1-for-12 start) and five turnovers. Washington once scored 54 points in a high school game, but his St. Raymond’s team still lost. He’s struggling with his outside shot in college (2-for-24 from three-point range), so it’s putting even more pressure on him to score at the basket. His lack of size makes that difficult, so Washington’s best asset might be his vision and passing ability. With McBrayer likely out again Sunday against Rutgers, it will be key for Washington to run the offense and move the ball around to try to get his teammates involved. That could also open up better scoring opportunities for himself.

PICK-AND-ROLL DEFENSE – How can an opponent get good looks at the basket when Big Ten defensive player of the year and the No. 1 shot blocker in college hoops is protecting the rim? Pretty simple: you draw Reggie Lynch out of the paint. Not so fast, though. He can still block shots on the perimeter as well. But not if he and his teammates are running around chasing ball screens. Miami’s primary offense, as many teams with guard-heavy lineups, is predicated on the pick and roll. When Lynch came out to defend his man, he was screened and the opposing big man rolled wide open for dunks. If they dropped to cover the roller, then the screener was left free for jump shots. Can Richard Pitino make adjustments and figure out ways to keep his players from being exposed on pick-and-rolls? Not having McBrayer and relying more on inexperienced bench players makes it more difficult. But that’s why he gets paid millions of dollars, right.

BENCH PRODUCTION – The Gophers don’t have a very reliable bench right now. There’s no other way to put it. In Wednesday’s loss to Miami, Jamir Harris, Michael Hurt, Davonte Fitzgerald and Bakary Konate combined for zero points and Harris had the only field goal attempt. Washington moving to the starting lineup takes away Minnesota’s top scoring reserve. But the Gophers can’t replace that production unless another player has the confidence to step up and make plays offensively. Fitzgerald also only played four minutes against the Hurricanes. He’s probably the most talented bench player, but the 6-foot-8 junior forward needs playing time to get more comfortable. Hurt played well with starters during the win at Providence, especially Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey. That might be a lineup you see Sunday. Harris is the team’s top three-point shooter (50 percent), so he can’t be afraid to let it fly when on the court.

GAME INFO

Time: 5 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota by 12 points. Series: Tied 6-1. Minnesota won last meeting 72-63 on Feb. 11, 2017. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (7-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Isaiah Washington 6-1 Fr. 8.9

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 13.9

G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 13.8

F – Jordan Murphy 6-6 Jr. 21.4

C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 11.4

Key reserves– Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 0.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 2.8 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 4.6 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 100-76 (6th season)  

Notable: Gophers junior forward Jordan Murphy is tied with Duke freshman sensation Marvin Bagley III for first in the nation with eight double-doubles. Murphy and Bagley have recorded double-doubles in every game this season. Murphy even has 15 double-doubles in his last 19 games going back to last season. That’s consistency for you.

Rutgers (6-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – Corey Sanders 6-1 Sr. 13.0

G – Geo Baker 6-4 Fr. 11.4

G – Issa Thiam 6-10 So. 8.7

F – Deshawn Freeman 6-7 Sr. 11.6

C – Mamadou Doucoure 6-9 Fr. 4.0

Key reserves– Eugene Omoruyi, F, 6-7, So., 10.9 ppg; Mike Williams, G, 6-2, Sr., 9.3 ppg; Shaquille Doorson, C, 7-0, Jr., 4.0 ppg.

Coach: Steve Pikiell 213-175 (13th season)  

Notable: The Scarlet Knights lead the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (16.57), scoring defense (51.6 points), total rebounds per game (46.57), three-point field goal defense (28.4) and fewest fouls (101).

Fuller’s prediction (7-1 picks record)Gophers 78, Rutgers 68. The Gophers finally proved me wrong, but not in a good way Wednesday by losing to Miami. They seemed to have the advantage in the frontcourt with Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch, who combined for 29 points, 24 rebounds and 10 blocks. But the Hurricanes were the first opponent this season to shoot 50 percent or better. Pitino needs his team to get back to having a defensive identity and share the ball offensively. If the Gophers can do that Sunday in their Big Ten opener, they will have no problem beating Rutgers without McBrayer.

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