Gophers men’s hoops vs. North Dakota

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Free throw frequency – The Gophers won a lot of games last season from the foul line. You could say it was their bread and butter, especially when shots weren’t falling. Through the first five games in 2018-19, Minnesota attempted 28.8 free throws per game, which was tops among high-major programs. That helped them open the season 5-0, including wins vs. Utah, Texas A&M and Washington. It didn’t matter too much that they struggled with accuracy [63.9 percent], because they made more free throws than most opponents attempted. That strength for Richard Pitino’s team last season has so far been a weakness this year. Not only are the Gophers shooting far fewer free throws [13.2] per game, but they also aren’t converting them [59.1 percent], either. There is nearly an 11-point difference between the amount of scoring from the foul line per game compared to last season. Sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur, the team’s top shooter, hasn’t attempted a free throw this season. Starters Payton Willis and Alihan Demir didn’t go to the foul line in three games. Of the 66 free throw attempts for the team this year, center Daniel Oturu and point guard Marcus Carr have 49 between them. Only four players have made more than two free throws so far this season. That’s obviously concerning. Pitino’s players are settling too much for jump shots and not drawing contact enough near the basket. The Gophers rank 338th among 353 Division I basketball teams in the percentage of points on free throws [11 percent] – and only Virginia Tech has a lower percentage among high-major programs [10 percent] as of games through Nov. 23.

Battle of the big men – Daniel Oturu’s having the best start to the season for a Gophers center in years. The 6-10 sophomore is averaging 17 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game. His 66.7 percent field goal shooting leads all Big Ten players. How will Oturu respond, though, from his season-low nine points and season-worst five turnovers in Thursday’s win against Central Michigan? He’ll have to do it against one of the top big men in the Summit League. North Dakota’s Filip Rebraca isn’t the reason the Fighting Hawks have dropped three straight games. The 6-9 sophomore from Serbia is second in the Summit League in scoring [17.8 ppg] and rebounding [9.8] and first in field goal percentage [73.2] and blocks per game [2.8]. Rebraca had nearly a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks in Tuesday’s loss at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He also held his own against one of the nation’s top frontcourts when he finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds against Gonzaga, a top-10 team. North Dakota’s 6-9 senior Kienen Walter also has 25 points combined in his last two games on 6 for 8 shooting from three-point range. Minnesota’s still searching for a productive power forward alongside Oturu. Alihan Demir earned his starting spot back from Jarvis Omersa against Central Michigan, but he only had four points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. Omersa had two points and two rebounds in nine minutes off the bench. Michael Hurt had five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.

Freshmen in rotation – The Gophers’ freshmen class had high expectations for themselves this season, but they needed to be realistic expectations. Fans were spoiled the last several years when freshmen like Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, Oturu and Kalscheur entered the program and immediately became starters and major contributors. They were also among the Big Ten’s top freshmen in their respective years. Pitino would obviously love that type of impact from either Tre’ Williams, Isaiah Ihnen, Bryan Greenlee or Sam Freeman right away. But they aren’t being asked to play big roles so far. Greenlee and Freeman aren’t in the rotation. Williams and Ihnen are providing depth for the Gophers. Williams leads the freshmen with 4.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 15.2 minutes per game. Only five of Williams’ 18 field goal attempts this year are inside the arc, but the Dallas native is 4 for 8 from three in the last two games. The 6-9 Ihnen made his home debut Thursday after missing three games with a right wrist injury. He’s hit two threes in two games, but the Gophers really could use Ihnen’s length [7-4 wingspan] at power forward. Will he be able to handle himself in the paint at 210 pounds? Better to get him experience in the post now before Big Ten play starts.

GAME INFO

Time: 6 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 18-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads series over North Dakota 18-2, including last meeting 92-56 on Dec. 8, 2014 at Williams Arena. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: Big Ten Plus. Radio: 103.5.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (2-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So.  15.4

G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 13.0

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 10.6

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 5.8

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 17.0

Key reserves–Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.8 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.0 ppg; Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 4.0 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 132-109 (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.

NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS (1-3) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Marlon Stewart 6-3 209 Sr. 16.0 ppg

G – Billy Brown 6-3 195 Sr. 2.0 ppg

G – De’Sean Allen-Eikens 6-6 212 Fr. 14.0 ppg.

F – Kienan Walter 6-9 205 Sr. 7.8 ppg

C – Filip Rebraca 6-9 220 So.17.8 ppg

Key reserves– Aanen Moody, G, 6-3, So., 5.8 ppg; Brady Danielson, F, 6-4, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Marko Coudreau, F, 6-9, So., 2.3 ppg; Bentiu Panoam, G, 6-2, Jr., 1.5 ppg.

Coach: Paul Sather 283-154 (16th season)  

Notable: In North Dakota’s loss to Milwaukee, Rebraca [24 points and 10 rebounds] and De’Sean Allen-Eikens [10 points and 12 rebounds] became the first players to record double-doubles for the program in the same game since the 2014-15 season … The Fighting Hawks are averaging 16.3 turnovers per game this year, including 20 turnovers in each of their last two losses to Valparaiso and Milwaukee.

Fuller’s prediction (3-2 with picks): Gophers 80, North Dakota 65. 

Older Post

Backcourt breaking out of slump will be key for Gophers

Newer Post

Pitino inspired by Fleck's Gophers football team attracting "College GameDay"