Michigan at Gophers men’s basketball
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
High-low offense – Offensive identity has been hard to find for the Gophers, but Richard Pitino might have found something that works the best for his team. It’s been part of the system all season, but the high-low offense really was at the forefront in Saturday’s 84-63 win against Indiana. Jordan Murphy, Daniel Oturu and Eric Curry worked the high post and low post to give the Hoosiers problem, especially throwing passes over the top of the defense to Murphy, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Oturu and Curry are better passers at the center position than Reggie Lynch and Bakary Konate, who kept Pitino from running many plays with his set last season. High-low motion offense works well against zones to put pressure on the middle of the defense. The three perimeter players also can get open shots on the weak side. Quick passes and ball rotation is the key to success, which can be a strength for Minnesota at times. The Gophers had 19 assists on 28 baskets against Indiana. The true test will be Thursday against a Michigan defense ranked No. 2 nationally in efficiency and also No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (57.6) and second in three-point defense (30.5 percent).
Iggy’s impact – When Iggy Brazdeikis struggles that means the Wolverines have typically been vulnerable to an upset. In Michigan’s three losses, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged just 7.3 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting (9-for-24), including going scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting against Wisconsin. The Gophers were burned by the Canadian freshmen sensation in the second half of the 59-57 loss Jan. 22 at Michigan. Brazdeikis scored 13 of his team-best 18 points in the second half, to go along with 11 rebounds. He shot just 4-for-18 from the field, but he went 9-for-10 from the foul line and fueled a 23-3 run in the second half to take control. He leads Michigan with 14.5 points per game, but Brazdeikis has scored just 21 points combined on 8-for-24 shooting in his last three games. In that span, Charles Matthews (18.7 ppg) and Jordan Poole (11.7) have been the top scorers.
Three-point shooting – The Gophers rank worst in the Big Ten with 5.5 threes per game, but they finished a season-best 12-for-22 from three-point range in their last game. The question is how much of that will carry over Thursday against Michigan? Freshman Gabe Kalscheur had 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. He seems to have found his stroke again going 11-for-15 (73.3 percent) in his last three games. The former DeLaSalle star is the U’s top three-point shooting threat this season at 40 percent from long distance (58-for-145). How much can we expect to see others contribute to the outside shooting? Well, Oturu nailed his first career three-pointer on his first career attempt to beat the shot clock against Indiana. He has shown the ability to shoot a mid-range jumper, so maybe Pitino gives him the freedom to step out even deeper moving forward. Two three-pointers Saturday were bank shots, which actually has happened several times this year. So we’ll see it again. Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer are better shooters than they’ve shown this season. Coffey (33.7 percent this season) went 3-for-6 from three and McBrayer (25 percent) was 2-for-5 against the Hoosiers. Another player who might be able to help from three-point territory is senior Brock Stull, who made 129 three-pointers on 39 percent shooting in his last two seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 5.0-point underdog. Series: Michigan leads the series 94-66, including winning the last meeting 59-57 on Jan. 22 in Ann Arbor.TV: ESPN. Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (17-9, 7-8 in Big Ten)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.3
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.4
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.5
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 15.0
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.8
Reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 4.3 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.7 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.5 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.7 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 125-101 (7th season)
Notable: Redshirt sophomore center Eric Curry, who missed the first 12 games this season after knee surgery, is back in the lineup for the second straight game after missing two games with a calf injury. Curry, who is averaging 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes this season, had two points and three rebounds in 20 minutes Saturday against Indiana. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Washington, who averages 4.7 points and a team-best 3.2 assists, is available to play Thursday after missing the last game with a tailbone injury.
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (23-3, 12-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Zavier Simpson 6-0 Jr. 9.1
G-Jordan Poole 6-5 So. 12.8
F-Charles Matthews 6-6 Sr. 13.2
F-Iggy Brazdeikis 6-7 Fr. 14.5
C-Jon Teske 7-1 Jr. 7.5
Key reserves–Isaiah Livers, F, 6-7, So., 7.5 ppg; Eli Brooks, G, 6-1, So., 2.5 ppg; Austin Davis, F, 6-10, Jr., 1.3 ppg; Brandon Johns Jr., F, 6-8, Fr., 0.9 ppg.
Coach: John Beilein 822-464 (41st season)
Notable: Michigan has only lost three games this season, but all of them were on the road in the Big Ten: at Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State. After falling at Penn State last week, the Wolverines regrouped to beat Maryland 65-52 at home Saturday.
Fuller’s prediction (prediction record 16-10): Gophers 66, Michigan 62. This is could be the biggest win for the Gophers not only this season, but arguably in the Pitino Era. The Wolverines rank No. 8 in the NCAA’s NET rankings as of Wednesday, so needless to say it could be the resume win Minnesota needs to get into the NCAA tournament. The confidence and frustration from nearly pulling off the upset in Ann Arbor before Charles Matthews’ buzzer beater should serve the Gophers well Thursday night. It also doesn’t hurt they are coming off their best 40-minute performance of the season over the weekend.