Gophers men’s hoops vs. Michigan  

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Defending the post – There’s nothing much to critique about Daniel Oturu’s sophomore season since he has been owning the paint in nearly all of his matchups for the Gophers. The numbers speak for themselves as he’s the only player in Division I basketball averaging 19 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and shooting 60 percent from the field. He’s boosted some of those numbers in Big Ten play through five games, putting up an exemplary 21.1 points and by a good margin league-high 13.8 rebounds a night. What is there not to like? Well, Richard Pitino pointed out that he’s got to take some responsibility for how much the Gophers have been giving up some career nights to opposing big men as well. In a Jan. 2 double-overtime loss at Purdue, center Matt Haarms had a career-high 26 points on 11 for 15 field goals, including 10 points in the two overtimes. That was no doubt the difference.

In Thursday’s 74-58 loss at Michigan State, Xavier Tillman had 19 points on 9 for 14 field goals, 16 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. Also, Iowa’s Luke Garza had 21points and 10 rebounds in the Gophers’ 20-point loss Dec. 9 in Iowa City. It’s not fair to blame those performances solely on Oturu. In fact, Tillman was being defended mostly by senior Alihan Demir and sophomore Jarvis Omersa when he exploded in the first half. Also, if you think the Gophers were allowing huge numbers to opposing big men, Michigan’s lack of post defense was astronomically worse. Purdue’s Trevion Williams posted a career-best 36 points and 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss at Michigan on Thursday. That was still not as impressive a scoring outburst as Garza’s career-high 44 points against the Wolverines in early December. Tillman (20 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks) and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn (19 points and 10 rebounds) also dominated inside against first-year Michigan coach Juwan Howard’s team. Howard probably wishes he could take the court and guard those guys himself. But that role belongs to 7-foot-1 senior Jon Teske. Just like Oturu, though, it’s not only on the starting center to blame for poor post defense. Regardless, both Teske and Oturu should have big games Sunday.  

Foul shooting fancy – The Gophers took a weakness earlier in the season and turned it into a strength. The inability to get to the foul line hurt Pitino’s team in several losses during a tough nonconference schedule. But in the past five games, the Gophers have been shooting 82-for-89 from the free throw line (92.1 percent), including 48-for-49 in their last two home games against Florida International and Northwestern. They rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (81.1) in league games, shooting 60 for 74 in five games. Making foul shots hasn’t been an issue at all lately. But the lack of free throws period contributed to Thursday’s loss at Michigan State. The Gophers were averaging 18.5 free throws made in their previous four games, but only went 7-for-8 from the charity stripe in East Lansing. Michigan ranks seventh in the league in free throw percentage (73.3) in conference games, but the Wolverines have still got to the foul line more often.

Second and third options – Can the Gophers give Oturu some help, please? That’s what the Gophers are hoping they can get consistently from guards Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur and Payton Willis, who combine to average 38.7 points per game this season. How many points did that backcourt trio have against the Spartans? They combined to score just 23 points on 8 for 27 shooting from the field, including 3 for 14 shooting from three-point range. That’s the second time this season Carr, Kalscheur and Willis laid an egg in a Big Ten road loss (also 3-for-29 shooting at Iowa). Both times the Gophers were blown out. Oturu’s been one of the most consistent big men in all of college hoops. He’ll get his near 20-point double-double every game. What will his teammates do? It helps that Pitino is getting more production from the power forward position. Demir had 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against the Spartans.  

GAME INFO

Time: 12 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 2.0-point favorite. Series: Michigan leads the series 90-60, including last meeting 76-49 in the Big Ten tournament semifinals on March 16, 2019 in Chicago. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 103.5

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (8-7, 2-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 15.5

G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 10.3

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 12.9

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 7.9

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 19.3

Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.9 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.9 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.8 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 138-113 (8th season overall)  

Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery in the fall 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. The last time Curry saw the court for the Gophers was with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes in a win at Northwestern on Feb. 28, 2019 ... Demir's knee injury bothered him in last week's loss at Purdue, but the 6-9 Turkey native has bounced back with 21 points and 17 rebounds combined in the last two games. Oturu left Thursday's loss against Michigan State briefly after landing hard on his right arm, but Pitino said his star big man is fine for Sunday's game vs. Michigan.

NO. 19 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (11-4, 2-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Zavier Simpson 6-0 Sr. 12.1

G – Eli Brooks 6-1 Jr. 10.4

G – Franz Wagner 6-9 Fr. 9.0

F – Brandon Johns Jr. 6-8 So. 5.1

C – Jon Teske 7-1 Sr. 14.7

Key reserves – David DeJulius, G, 6-0, So., 8.1 ppg; Colin Castleton, 6-11, So., 3.9 ppg; Austin Davis, F, 6-10, Sr., 4.9 ppg.

Coach: Juwan Howard 11-4 (1st season) 

Notable: Former Wolverines coach John Beilein had an18-4 record vs. Minnesota, including one loss in the last 15 games in the series. Howard will make his first trip to Williams Arena since playing at the Barn with Michigan in a 70-58 loss on Jan. 20, 1994. Senior Zavier Simpson’s 22 points led them to Thursday’s 84-78 double-overtime win against Purdue at home. Teske is averaging 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks in his last four games, which included 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks vs. Purdue … Junior forward Isaiah Livers will miss his fourth straight game for the Wolverines with a groin injury. Livers is the team’s second leading scorer (13.6) and top three-point shooter (50 percent).

Fuller’s prediction (9-6 with picks): Gophers 74, Michigan 70

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Pregame: Carr vs. Winston is prime matchup for Gophers vs. Michigan State

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Oturu's big game earns another Big Ten player of week honor