Washington vs. Gophers men’s basketball

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

MURPHY VS. DICKERSON – NBA scouts will be tuning in to Wednesday’s featured matchup in the Vancouver Showcase between the Gophers and Washington. Two Karl Malone Award candidates and top power forwards in the nation face off. Washington senior Noah Dickerson was an All-Pac 12 first team performer last season. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Atlanta native got off to a bad start in the Vancouver Showcase with an 11-point, seven-turnover performance in Sunday’s win against Santa Clara. But Dickerson broke out with 24 points and 17 rebounds in Tuesday’s 71-67 comeback win against Texas A&M. He ranks second on the team in scoring (16.2 points) and first in rebounding (8.2) this season. Gophers senior Jordan Murphy is about the same size at 6-7 and 250 pounds, but he’s one of the top rebounders in all of college basketball. Murphy broke Minnesota’s all-time rebounding mark held by Mychal Thompson with 17 rebounds in Tuesday’s 80-66 win against Santa Clara. The San Antonio native has 961 in his career. The Big Ten’s all-time rebounds leader is former Ohio State All-American Jerry Lucas with 1,411 rebounds from 1959-62. The league's best mark since 1982-83 is 1,096 by former Michigan State star Draymond Green. Murphy leads the Big Ten with 12.8 rebounds per game this season, so he's on pace for over 1,300 rebounds in his career. That would put him 2nd all-time in the Big Ten behind Lucas and top-15 in NCAA history. His scoring numbers are down from 16.8 to 13.0 ppg this season, but he's averaging a career-best 4.5 assists. The Gophers also have more help for him in the frontcourt with freshman center Daniel Oturu, who is averaging 10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and a Big-Ten best 2.3 blocks per game. 

THREE-POINT ACE – The Gophers had their worst shooting performance of the season Tuesday against Santa Clara going 24-for-67 from the field (35.8 percent). Take out freshman Gabe Kalscheur’s lights out shooting (9-for-16), the rest of the team were an abysmal 15-for-51 from the field (29.4 percent). Kalscheur’s six first-half threes, including four in a row sparked a 14-3 run to erase a seven-point deficit. The former DeLaSalle star continues to be one of the biggest surprises among freshman in the Big Ten. He leads the team in scoring (15.0 ppg) through five games, but also ranks tied for second in the conference in threes made (16). Kalscheur’s shooting 59.3 percent from three-point range (16-for-27), but more impressive is his effective field goal percentage (74.4), which ranks fifth among all Big Ten players and first for freshman. Everyone seems shocked by Kalscheur’s picture perfect jumper translating so easily from high school to college, but he averaged 17.7 points and shot 43.6 percent (51-for-117) from beyond the arc in the Nike EYBL regular season last year. Kalscheur's shooting isn't the only thing that makes him stand out, but it's also his defensive effort, hustle plays and basketball IQ. That made Richard Pitino trust him to start as a true freshman, because Kalscheur plays like someone much older.

FREE THROW WOES – One of the biggest ways you can lose games down the stretch is poor free throw shooting. So far the Gophers have been able to avoid being bitten by this bug at the end of games, most notably hitting 10-for-14 from the foul line to escape Texas A&M 69-64 on Sunday night in Vancouver. Overall, though, Minnesota ranks 12th in the Big Ten and 281st in the nation in free throw percentage (63.1 percent). There must be something about shooting foul shots at the Vancouver Convention Centre that has gotten in Minnesota’s head. The Gophers are 41-for-70 (58.6 percent) from the charity stripe in two games in Vancouver. Ouch. Most notably, Murphy is shooting just 58.3 percent (14-for-24) on free throws, while Amir Coffey isn’t much better at 58.8 percent (10-for-17). Murphy and Coffey lead the team with 61 combined foul shots attempted this season, so they will need to figure out how to get comfortable soon before it costs them a win.

GAME INFO

Time: 5:30 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Vancouver Convention Centre. Line: minus-1. Series: Washington leads series 9-7 record, but Gophers won last meeting 68-67 in overtime in the NIT Semifinals on March 27, 2012. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (4-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 13.8

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 13.3

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 15.0

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 13.0

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.0

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 3.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.5 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 4.7 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 5.3 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 3.0 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 93-78 (6th season)  

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, was out for four-to-six weeks after knee surgery before the season. Curry averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native started in the Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton, but he was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee swelling. Curry is expected to miss at least the first seven games of the 2018-19 season.

WASHINGTON HUSKIES (4-1) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-David Crisp 6-0 Sr. 9.0

G-Jaylen Norwell 6-4 So. 19.4

G-Matisse Thybulle 6-5 Sr. 6.2

F-Noah Dickerson 6-8 Sr. 16.2

C-Sam Timmins 6-11 Jr. 1.2

Key reserves– Hameir Wright, F, 6-9, So., 4.0 ppg; Dominic Green, G, 6-6, Sr., 6.0 ppg; Nahziah Carter, F, 6-6, So., 9.6 ppg.

Coach: Mike Hopkins 25-14 (2nd season)  

Notable: The Huskies play a 2-3 zone similar to what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has given teams headaches with for years. Mike Hopkins, who was named Pac-12 coach of the year last season, was a longtime assistant under Boeheim from 1995-2017 … Washington will be one of the most athletic and lengthy opponents the Gophers face all season. The Huskies have six players with wingspans at least four inches longer than their height, including 6-6 Dominic Green (6-11 wingspan), 6-5 Matisse Thybulle (7-foot wingspan), 6-9 Hameir Wright (7-2 wingspan) and 7-foot Bryan Penn-Johnson (7-7 wingspan) … Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell, who leads UW in scoring (19.4 ppg), is on the Jerry West Award watch list. Nowell finished runner-up for Pac-12 freshman of the year last season, only behind No. 1 NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton of Arizona … Thybulle is on the Julius Erving Award small forward watch list as the returning Pac 12 defensive player of the year.

Fuller’s prediction (4-0 on picks this season)Gophers 73, Washington 71. The Gophers have basically played to the level of their competition all season, so it wouldn’t be surprising to expect them to rise to the occasion Wednesday against Washington. This is the toughest game on Minnesota’s nonconference schedule, which could be a big boost for the NCAA tournament resume. The Huskies are the only non-Big Ten opponent for the Gophers ranked in the top 50 in advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy’s rankings (No. 48). Washington is no longer a top-25 team (dropped out after a 20-point loss to Auburn), but the Huskies are Pac-12 title contenders and have the best chance to make the NCAA tournament among teams Minnesota will play outside of the league. This isn’t a must-win game since the Big Ten appears loaded with quality opponents this year, but Wednesday certainly has significant early NCAA tournament implications. How will Murphy do banging inside against Dickerson? Can Coffey handle the defensive pressure of Thybulle? Can they hit their free throws? Can Kalscheur soften up the zone with his outside shooting? This definitely will be a matchup to see how good the Gophers are right now.  

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