GOPHERS vs. UMass
Three things to watch:
JELLY’S HOME – Isaiah Washington returns to play in his home state of New York for the first time with the Gophers. You can bet there will be sections of fans chanting “Jelly! Jelly! Jelly!” at Barclays Center this weekend. With hundreds of thousands of Jelly Fam followers hoping he would take over at the college level from Day One, it was hard to live up to such high expectations to start his college career. Washington’s had good and bad moments so far. And it’s way too early to judge him. The talented freshman guard from Harlem doesn’t need to be a dominant scorer right now playing behind and alongside senior captain Nate Mason in the backcourt. He just needs to continue to gain a tighter grasp of Richard Pitino’s system, run the offense effectively and get teammates involved without making too many mistakes. Oh yes, and play defense. Washington is averaging 7.2 points and 3.4 assists in 19.2 minutes. He’s shooting just 31.6 percent from the field, including 12 percent from three-point range (2-for-17). But he has 17 assists to just seven turnovers. His shots will fall eventually. Pitino is more concerned about Washington’s defense and understanding the big picture. “There’s a lot being thrown at Isaiah,” Pitino said. “Not to mention the weight of his name and all those things. It’s going to take some time and that’s Ok. He knows that and he’s a willing learner. With Isaiah, it’s getting him to understand that if you play the right way, what you ultimately want will come – and that’s going to take some time. You want to win and go to the NBA one day. All the fanfare he has is really cool, but at the end of the day that’s not the end goal. And I think Isaiah knows that.”
HIGH MOTOR MURPH – How many times recently have you heard Pitino call Jordan Murphy by the nickname that used to describe his starting power forward’s lack of energy and intensity on the court? Not at all, right. It’s now “High Motor Murph” and rarely ever “Low Motor Murph” when he steps on the court. Pitino joked that he’s still keeping that nickname in his “back pocket” to use if needed. But I doubt we’ll be seeing that again. Murphy is off to the hottest start for a Gophers player in recent memory. In fact, his numbers through five games (Big Ten-leading 23.8 points and 12.2 rebounds per game) are better than former Purdue All-American and national player of the year Caleb Swanigan’s 18.2 ppg and 12.8 rpg at the same point last season. Who knows if Murphy’s numbers will remain this big as the competition heightens and better opponents double and triple team him. But it’s clear when the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior captain plays aggressive and attacks the rim and the boards, there are few players who can stop him. Murphy has 12 double-doubles in his last 15 games dating back to last season, including five straight this year. That’s the most for a Big Ten player since Ohio State’s Evan Turner in 2009-10, according to the Big Ten’s official stats crew.
YOUNG COACHES – Massachusetts coach Matt McCall and Pitino are two of the youngest Division I basketball coaches in the country. They’re both 35. But that’s not all they have in common. You might see some similarities in the way the Gophers and Minutemen play. That’s because Pitino and McCall are both Billy Donovan disciples. McCall is a Florida graduate and former Gator director of operations (2006-08) and assistant (2011-15). Pitino just missed him there as an assistant from 2009-2011).
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Friday. Where: Steinberg Wellness Center. Line: Minnesota 15 points. Series: First meeting ever. TV: None. Online/Live video: Stadium Network Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 13.6
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.0
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 13.0
F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 Jr. 23.8
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 12.4
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.2 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 4.8 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.2 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 5.8 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 98-75 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers haven’t been able to stop a disturbing trend when it comes to poor three-point shooting defense. They rank 13 out of 14 Big Ten teams in three-point percentage defense (44.5). UMass shoots 37.2 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks fifth in the Atlantic 10. Leading scorer Luwane Pipkins shoots 48.4 percent from long distance.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Luwane Pipkins 5-11 So. 22.3
G- Rayshawn Miller 6-1 Jr. 8.0
G- C.J. Anderson 6-6 Sr. 9.5
F- Malik Hines 6-10 Jr. 9.3
C- Rashaan Holloway 6-11 Jr. 9.8
Key reserves– Chris Baldwin, F, 6-8, So., 6.3 ppg; Carl Pierre, G, 6-4, Fr., 9.5 ppg; Unique McLean, G, 6-2, Fr., 6.3 ppg
Coach: Matt McCall 51-19 (3rd season)
Notable: Among the most noteworthy players who played for late UMass coach Jack Leaman are Hall of Famers Julius Erving (1969-71) and Rick Pitino (1971-74).
Fuller’s prediction (5-0 picks record): Gophers 88, Massachusetts 75. The Gophers weren’t challenged much at all during a three-game homestretch before coming to play in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. Well, there was that 10-point deficit against Niagara in the first half. But even that game ended with a 26-point win. Something tells me the Gophers will truly face some adversity on this trip. That might not be Friday against UMass. But Minnesota needs to be playing at its best going into Saturday’s matchup with No. 25 Alabama.