North Florida vs. Gophers men’s basketball

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

STARTING STULL – Last week’s win against Nebraska was all about the Gophers playing for senior guard Dupree McBrayer, who lost his mother to cancer two days before an emotional 85-78 win against the No. 24 Cornhuskers. McBrayer, a starter and co-captain, will miss Tuesday’s game against North Florida to attend his mother’s wake. Replacing McBrayer in the starting lineup will be senior Brock Stull, who is averaging 2.5 points this season. Definitely not what Stull expected when he came to Minnesota as a highly-sought graduate transfer from UW-Milwaukee. Missing summer practice set him back, but Stull should have time to get into his best shape and be ready to contribute more when Big Ten play resumes in January. Stull averaged 13.5 points as a sophomore and 13.5 as a junior at Milwaukee. His season-high with the Gophers is eight points in the Nov. 6 opener against Omaha, but he went scoreless in five straight games before Saturday. In limited action, Stull is still shooting 6-for-10 from three-point range in eight games. Minnesota’s first Big Ten victory this season was also the first conference home game for Stull, who picked the U over other high major programs to play in big games at Williams Arena, one of the most historic venues in college hoops. Stull said the atmosphere at the Nebraska game “was incredible. Everything you would’ve imagined. It was pretty exciting.” The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Illinois native admired the atmosphere more from the bench last Wednesday, but he scored six points with two three-pointers in 10 minutes in Saturday’s 72-56 win against Arkansas State.

HIGH-FLYING HORCHLER – Take a look at Noah Horchler in warmups before Tuesday’s game to see just why he might be the most athletic player on the floor once the ball is tipped against the Gophers. Horchler, a 6-8 junior forward, possesses a 40-inch vertical jump and also a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Sure, that might help him throw down some impressive dunks in the layup line. But Horchler’s athletic ability helped him lead the Atlantic Sun Conference with 10.4 rebounds per game this season, which included a 16-rebound game against Southern Miss. The Florida native leads the Ospreys in scoring (16.0 ppg), but he also has four double-doubles in eight games this year. Like rebounding, dunking is something Horchler does easily and often. Horchler had a season-high 23 points, including four of North Florida’s seven slams in an 81-62 win against Florida A&M. His dunk with 17 seconds left was the game-sealing play to snap a five-game road losing streak Dec. 1 in a 76-70 win at Charleston Southern. Horchler's matchup inside with Minnesota's double-double machine Jordan Murphy will definitely be something to watch closely. 

SECOND HALF LETDOWN – The Gophers had a 21-point lead less than two minutes into the second half Saturday against Arkansas State when things got really sloppy. Turnover. Foul. Turnover. Foul. Bad shot. Bad shot. Bad defense. The Red Wolves weren’t an offensive juggernaut, so it took them awhile to take advantage of the poor play by Minnesota. Eventually, Richard Pitino watched his team’s lead get cut to 12 points midway through the second half. The starters remained in the game when they should’ve been able to rest and allow the bench to play extended minutes. Starting center Daniel Oturu had the best game of his career so far with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, but he was still on the floor with three minutes left to stop a potential comeback. Oturu, who will play vs. North Florida, ended up spraining his ankle and left the game limping. Will Pitino get a chance to play his reserves more Tuesday night? Only if the Gophers maintain their energy, effort and keep their foot on the gas after taking a big lead in the second half.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 15.5-point favorite. Series: Gophers lead series 1-0. Last meeting was an 87-59 win on Dec. 1, 2012 at Williams Arena. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (8-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.8

G- Brock Stull 6-4 Sr. 2.5

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 11.6

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.4

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 9.5

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.6 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.0 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 4.1 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.5 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 98-80 (6th season)  

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, will miss his 11th game 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. The Gophers are hopeful Curry makes his season debut Dec. 21 against North Carolina A&T ... Pitino said seven players and the coaching staff with fly Wednesday to New York to attend the funeral of McBrayer's mother.

NORTH FLORIDA OSPREYS (4-5) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Ivan Gandia-Rosa 6-1 Jr. 10.0

G-JT Escobar 6-2 Jr. 8.9

F-Garrett Sams 6-7 Jr. 14.3

F-Wajid Aminu 6-7 Jr. 8.3

F-Noah Horchler 6-8 Jr. 16.0

Key reserves– Trip Day, F, 6-7, So., 8.3 ppg; Ryan Burkhardt, G, 6-4, So., 3.0 ppg; Carter Hendricksen, F, 6-7, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Brian Coffey II, G, 6-0, So., 3.0 ppg; Ezekiel Balogun, F, 6-6, Jr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Matthew Driscoll 177-231 (13th season)  

Notable: North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll won the 150th game of his career in the victory against Florida A&M on Nov. 29. Driscoll's best season was when he led the Ospreys to the NCAA tournament and was named Atlantic Sun coach of the year in 2014-15 … The Ospreys were predicted to finish fourth in the Atlantic Sun in the preseason poll after returning all five starters and four of the top scorers from last season. They were the only Division I team with all five starters back but no seniors on the roster. How balanced is North Florida? Eleven of the 13 players on the roster have scored in double figures this season.

Fuller’s prediction (My record predicting 8-2)Gophers 77, North Florida 67. The Gophers will miss McBrayer’s toughness, defense and shot-making ability, but they have an opportunity to find out how much they can rely on Stull with more playing time. Stull, who hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in a game this year, is a different player than Akeem Springs, who also joined the Gophers as a grad transfer from Milwaukee. Two seasons ago, Springs was a deadly three-point shooter and strong on-ball defender for an NCAA tournament team in 2017. Stull proved in his last two seasons he can really shoot the ball, combining for 129 three-pointers on better than 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That part of his game has carried over to Minnesota, but Stull is still improving defensively and as a rebounder (averaged a team-best 6.6 rebounds in 2016-17). If he responds well to his first Gophers start in place of McBrayer on Tuesday that could be a positive sign moving forward.

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