THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
BENCH POINTS – To have a shot at a big upset on the road, the Gophers will likely need a player to make an impact Tuesday at Michigan that nobody sees coming – meaning off the bench. Richard Pitino used just a seven-man rotation in Saturday’s 65-64 victory against Penn State, including Isaiah Washington and Eric Curry as the lone reserves to see the floor. Last season, Washington came off the bench to score a career-high 26 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field to help Minnesota nearly take down Michigan falling 76-73 in overtime in Ann Arbor. Could Washington provide that spark again? His scoring is down from 8.7 points as a freshman to 5.1 points per game this season. In Saturday’s 65-64 win against Penn State, Minnesota received a lift off the bench from redshirt sophomore big man Curry, who scored a season-high 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field and 5-for-6 on free throws in 25 minutes. Curry started in the second half in place of Daniel Oturu, who has been the starting center in all 18 games this season. It was the first time a Gophers reserve scored in double figures in Big Ten play this season. Washington had the other two double-digit scoring games with 15 points against Oklahoma State and 14 points and a career-best 13 assists against North Florida.
TAKING CARE OF BALL – The Gophers crumbled against an aggressive ball pressure defense the last time they were on the road in a 27-point loss at Illinois last week. They committed 15 turnovers, including nine in the first half to trail by 21 points at halftime in Champaign. Being careless with the ball will get you beat, especially on the road. Just ask Michigan. The Wolverines had the potential to be the No. 1-ranked team in the nation this week, but they committed 16 turnovers in their first loss of the season, 64-54 Saturday at Wisconsin. John Beilein was surprised by the way his team was careless with the ball against the Badgers. But Michigan nearly got upset in a 62-60 win at Northwestern after committing 15 turnovers. Minnesota and Michigan rank in the middle of the back among Big Ten teams in turnover ratio (1.2). The Gophers average just 11.6 turnovers a game, while Michigan is even better at just 10.3. Wolverines point guard Zavier Simpson ranks first in Big Ten games in assist/turnover ratio (3.8), but he had three turnovers against Wisconsin.
GAME ON THE LINE – With the chance to win the game, Dupree McBrayer went to the foul line with 2.7 seconds left Saturday against Penn State. It’s a situation anyone who grows up shooting baskets at your local playground imagines over and over. McBrayer missed the first free throw, but he nailed the second after the Gophers called a timeout. It turned out to be the game-winner for the senior guard. It was a fitting ending since the Gophers a couple weeks ago fell 82-67 to Maryland going 9-for-23 from the foul line, which included 10 missed foul shots in the second half. Since the Maryland loss, Minnesota has turned things around at the charity stripe going 55-for-74 (74.3 percent) in the last three games. Getting to the foul line is probably the Gophers’ biggest strength, ranking fifth in the nation with 26.9 free throws attempted per game. The Wolverines missed 16 free throws (12-for-28) last year in the narrow win against the Gophers at home.
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Crisler Arena. Line: Gophers 12.5-point underdogs. Series: Michigan leads the series 93-66, winning the last meeting 76-73 in overtime Feb. 3, 2018 in Ann Arbor.TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (14-4, 4-3 in Big Ten)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.7
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 10.7
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 9.7
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.6
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.6
Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 5.0 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.1 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 2.0 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 122-96 (7th season)
Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, was out for the first 12 games this season after knee surgery before the season. Curry made his season debut with four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes Dec. 30 against Mount St. Mary’s off the bench. He scored a season-high 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting and 5-for-6 free throws in a win Jan. 19 against Penn State. The 6-9 Memphis native averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. Curry was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee swelling.
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (17-1, 6-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Zavier Simpson 6-0 Jr. 8.8
G-Jordan Poole 6-5 So. 13.4
F-Charles Matthews 6-6 Sr. 13.6
F-Ignas Brazdeikis 6-7 Fr. 14.8
C-Jon Teske 7-1 Jr. 8.7
Key reserves–Isaiah Livers, F, 6-7, So., 7.8 ppg; Eli Brooks, G, 6-1, So., 3.3 ppg; Austin Davis, F, 6-10, Jr., 1.5 ppg; Brandon Johns Jr., F, 6-8, Fr., 1.3 ppg.
Coach: John Beilein 816-462 (21st season)
Notable: Freshman Iggy Brazdeikis, who leads the team with 14.8 points per game, went scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting from the field in the loss at Wisconsin. Brazdeikis had scored in double figures in 15 of his first 17 games this season. The Wolverines have won 15 of their last 17 games against Minnesota since 2008. Their last loss in the series was 83-78 in overtime in Minneapolis in 2016-17.
Fuller’s prediction: Michigan 80, Gophers 69. The Gophers haven’t beaten the Wolverines in Ann Arbor since 2011, which is currently their second longest road losing streak to a Big Ten team (haven’t won at Ohio State since 2005). That history alone would be tough to overcome, but Michigan was arguably the best team in college hoops before being upset at Wisconsin over the weekend. That stinging defeat might give the Wolverines even more motivation to bounce back strong Tuesday against Pitino’s team. It would go a long way if Minnesota can at least compete since it wasn’t pretty in the last road game. It gets more favorable for the Gophers coming up against Iowa and Illinois at home in the next two Big Ten games.