Louisiana-Lafayette at Gophers

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by 10 points Series: Gophers led 1-0; won last meeting, 94-73, at home in 1980. TV: None. Online/Live video: BTN Plus, BTN2go app. Radio: 1500-AM.

 

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG (2015-16)

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 13.8

G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 7.4

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 19.9*

F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 11.6

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 R-Jr. 9.5*

- High school and previous college

Key reserves – Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 13.2 ppg (UW-Milwaukee 2015-16); Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 15.0 ppg* (high school); Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 19.8 ppg (high school); Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 4.8 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert Jr., F, 6-6, So., 3.4 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 51-51 (4 seasons)  

Notable: The Gophers are 6-1 against Sun Belt Conference opponents, which they will see quite often this year. They play four Sun Belt teams in nonconference play, including preseason favorite Texas-Arlington (Monday), Georgia Southern (Dec. 9), Arkansas State (Dec. 23). Minnesota’s only loss to a Sun Belt team came 67-66 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock at home in 2006-07.

LA-LAFAYETTE 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG (2015-16)

G-Jay Wright 6-1 Sr. 8.9

G-Frank Bartley 6-3 Jr. 2.5

G-Johnathan Stove 6-4 Jr. 8.9

F-Bryce Washington 6-6 Jr. 8.7

F-Jerekius Davis 6-6 Jr. R-Fr. NA

Key reserves – Larenz Stalcup, C, 6-11, Jr.; P.J. Hardy, G, 6-1, Fr.; Scott Plaisance, F, 6-9, So.; Justin Miller, F, 6-7, Fr.

Coach: Bob Marlin 455-258 (23 seasons)  

Notable: Marlin, in his seventh season coaching the Ragin’ Cajun, coached twice against Richard Pitino’s Florida International team in 2012-13. Despite having future NBA first-round pick, Elfrid Payton, UL-Lafayette lost twice to Pitino’s FIU 75-70 at home and 80-75 on the road.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Strong start – The Gophers opened up the first half against Bemidji State flat and didn’t take their first lead until 2:16 left before halftime. Murphy sparked a 14-2 run with seven straight points. First-game jitters aside, Minnesota can’t afford slow starts during a nonconference schedule that only gets tougher. The Gophers trailed at halftime during nonconference play six times last year and went 1-5 in those games, including in a 23-point deficit to South Dakota State. But this a new year, right?

Three-point and foul shooting – Usually shooting stats from exhibition games should be dismissed good or bad. But when they’re this bad, it’s hard to forget. Minnesota shot 4-for-19 from three-point range and 19-for-32 on free throws last week. Freshman Michael Hurt showed what he’s capable of with 2-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc, but nobody else looked comfortable. Nate Mason’s absence with a concussion was a factor (although he was only a 30-percent three-point shooter last season). Free throw shooting got better in the second half (70 percent compared to 47 percent). So it might not be cause for alarm – yet.  

Rebounding – There’s no reason why an undersized Division II opponent should get as close as it did to the Gophers in rebounding margin (46-43). Bemidji State grabbed 18 rebounds. Murphy was one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten last season, but he needs to improve on the defensive boards. Freshman Eric Curry grabbing 14 rebounds was a pleasant surprise, but he might not get 27 minutes a night (played extended minutes with starting center Reggie Lynch in foul trouble)                                              

Fuller’s prediction: Gophers 75, UL-Lafayette 66. The Gophers haven’t dropped a season opener at home since losing in overtime to Ball State in 1988-89. George H. W. Bush had just won the U.S. presidential election over Michael Dukakis. That might not seem like it was nearly 30 years ago. But considered that Richard Coffey was a junior forward for Minnesota, and now his son, Amir, is a high-profile freshman ready to make his maroon and gold debut tonight. I’m expecting Coffey to have a spectacular all-around performance in his first game. The Ragin’ Cajun will make it close in the second half, but won’t have enough depth to pull it out. Pitino should be pleased his team gets a test before UT-Arlington comes in Monday expecting to pull off the upset.

Story links this week:

Gophers season preview story on big turnaround 

College athletes seeking a voice on social issues

This could be the year of the freshmen in college hoops

Pitino juggling basketball and family life

 

 

 

 

 

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