Gophers men’s hoops vs. Central Michigan

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Backcourt bounce back – Watching Gabe Kalscheur shoot last season many people would probably admit they were shocked when his shot didn’t go in from three-point range. Sure, the former DeLaSalle standout went through a dry spell during Big Ten play, but he still finished the season with a freshman school record 77 three-pointers and shot 41 percent from long distance. It didn’t matter when Louisville threw extra defenders out on Kalscheur in the NCAA tournament first round game against the Gophers. Kalschuer still put up 24 points with five three-pointers to lead the U to victory. So, what’s going on this season with Kalscheur shooting 32.3 percent [10-for-31] through four games? Defenses are keying on him even more. But he’s also not playing with Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer in the backcourt. Both were constantly driving to the basket off ball screens and kicked the ball out to Kalscheur spotting up at the arc. It’s taking time to adjust to new backcourt mates in Marcus Carr and Payton Willis. Willis is also a very similar player, meaning he relies mostly on his jump shooting ability offensively. Kalscheur appeared to get more comfortable in the 73-69 loss last week at Utah. He scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including three three-pointers and his layup cut it to 61-59 with under three minutes left. That was Kalscheur’s first double-figure scoring game this season. More should be coming, especially if he draws more fouls. Kalscheur is the only player on the team with double-digit minutes played not to attempt a free throw in four games. A year ago, he was Minnesota’s leading scorer with 15 points per game after a 4-0 start. He then hit the game-winning three-pointer in the U’s biggest non-league victory of the season against Washington in Vancouver. Needless to say, Kalscheur finding his groove offensively is the best thing that could happen to the Gophers’ backcourt. Maybe that will help Carr and Willis get going. They shot 6-for-22 combined vs. Utah, including a season-low two points in 27 minutes for Willis. Carr had just nine points on 1-for-10 shooting from the field in last week's 64-56 loss at Butler.

Defensive consistency – If the Gophers turn a three-game winning streak into momentum in the opposite direction Thursday night against Central Michigan, it likely starts defensively. It seems like so long ago, but Richard Pitino’s team held Oklahoma to 24 percent shooting in the first half of the second game of the season in Sioux Falls. Minnesota led by as much as eight points in the second half but got outscored 23-4 to eventually fall 71-62. The Sooners shot 61.5 percent in the second half. Pitino wasn’t disappointed in his team’s overall defensive effort the following game in the 64-56 loss at Butler. The Gophers couldn’t stop All-Big East guard Kamar Baldwin, who exploded for 18 of his 27 points in the second half. But the rest of the Bulldogs shot just 11-for-31 from the field [35 percent]. Things didn’t really fall off defensively until last week’s 73-69 loss at Utah. The Gophers ended up closer to pulling off the win on the road than you figured they would be after trailing 16-0 to start. Minnesota hit 12 three-pointers, including seven in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. Why? The Utes shot 53 percent from the field. What better test for the Gophers defense Thursday than the Chippewas, who average a Division I-high 109 points per game. They can’t afford for this to be a shootout.   

Outstanding Oturu – There were several NBA scouts watching Daniel Oturu’s 21-point, 18-rebound performance against Utah last week. You can bet Oturu was on the NBA’s radar even before that game, but his improvement as a shooter at 6-foot-10 really opens eyes. The former Cretin-Derham Hall star has taken his game to another level this year by averaging 19 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in four games. Oturu shooting 4-for-8 from the three-point range this year makes him even harder to limit his offensive impact. Butler and Utah made it difficult to throw the ball into the post to Oturu, but he stretched the defense with his outside shooting. He even put the ball on the floor to drive past slower defenders. He’s accepted the challenge of replacing All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy. Murphy was an all-time great rebounder. Oturu is something special as well. He’s the type of center the Gophers haven’t had in a long, long time. The last Minnesota player 6-10 or taller to hit at least four three-pointers in a season was Ralph Sampson III in 2010-11. Sampson finished 5-for-26 on the season. Oturu could become one of the best shooting centers in the Big Ten if he keeps this up this year.

GAME INFO

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 10-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads series 3-0, including 76-56 at Williams Arena. TV: No TV. Online/Live video: Big Ten Plus. Radio: 103.5.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (1-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So.  14.5

G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 11.8

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 9.5

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 6.3

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 19.0

Key reserves–Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.0 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.0 ppg; Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.3 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 131-109 (8th season overall)  

Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery last month on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season … Freshman forward Isaiah Ihnen scored three points in nine minutes during his season debut last week vs. Utah. The 6-foot-9 Ihnen, a four-star recruit from Germany, missed the first three games with a right wrist injury.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (4-0) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Travon Broadway 6-5 182 Jr. 11.8

G – Devontae Lane 6-2 215 Jr. 10.8

G – Kevin McKay 6-5 228 Sr. 12.0

F – Rob Montgomery 6-7 230 Sr. 13.8

C – David DiLeo 6-8 224 Sr. 19.0

Key reserves– Dallas Morgan, G, 6-2, Sr., 19 ppg; Deschon Winston, G, 6-4, Jr., 8.8 ppg; Corey Redman, G, 6-6, Sr., 5.3 ppg; PJ Mitchell, G, 6-1, Jr., 4.7 ppg; Kevin Hamlet, F, 6-7, Jr., 3.8 ppg; Romelo Burrell, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.5 ppg.

Coach: Keno Davis 199-164 (12th season)  

Notable: The Chippewas scored a program-record 134 points in a win vs. Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 10. They defeated Siena Heights 115-58 last week in their third game with 100-plus points.  Six players average double figures in scoring … Former Iowa coach Tom Davis and Central Michigan’s Keno Davis are 11th on the all-time father-son career coaching victories list in Division I college basketball with 797 wins, ranked just ahead of Rick and Richard Pitino’s 778.

Fuller’s prediction (2-2 with picks): Gophers 75, Central Michigan 66. 

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