Utah at Gophers men’s basketball

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Big Ten size – Out of all six high major conferences in college basketball, Utah is the only team with three 7-footers. In fact, only five other high-major programs have at least two 7-footers, including the Pac 12 with four teams (Oregon State, Stanford, Utah and Washington). The Utes will definitely present a size challenge similar to what the Gophers face in the Big Ten this season with 7-foot senior Novak Topalovic, 7-foot junior Jayce Johnson and 7-foot freshman Brandon Morley. Topalovic, an Idaho State transfer, started the opening win against Maine and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. Johnson, who recovered from a broken foot in fall practice, came off the bench with eight rebounds and two blocks in just 19 minutes. Morley didn’t play in the first game. The Big Ten has seven teams with a 7-footer on the roster, including Illinois with two. The ACC (five), Big 12 (two), SEC (two) and Big East (1) have at least one program in their conference with a 7-footer. Gophers freshman Daniel Oturu is 6-10, but he’s not used to facing opposing centers he needs to look up to – literally. It will be a good test for the U’s talented young big man who had 14 points and eight rebounds in his college debut against Omaha last week. Senior Matz Stockman gives the Gophers comparable size with his 7-foot-1, 240-pound frame, but power forwards Jordan Murphy and Jarvis Omersa are both 6-7.

More three-point threats – The Gophers ranked 10th last season in three-point percentage (34.6) and threes made (218) in the Big Ten, but those numbers should improve. Minnesota nailed 10 three-pointers in last week’s opening win against Omaha, including 7-for-14 shooting in the second half. Four different U players nailed shots from beyond the arc, but senior guard Dupree McBrayer led the way going 5-for-6 from three-point range. McBrayer was out of rhythm most of last season being held out of practice because of a lingering leg injury. That resulted in his three-point percentage dropping from a career-best 41.6 in 2016-17 to 34.3 his junior year. Now that the 6-5 lefty is healthy, he’ll let it fly with confidence from long distance. Minnesota added two shooters to the program with freshman Gabe Kalscheur and senior grad transfer Brock Stull, who combined to shoot 4-for-6 from three last Tuesday. Junior forward Michael Hurt also nailed a three-pointer off the bench. Junior Amir Coffey and sophomore Isaiah Washington are both capable of making shots from deep, even though they didn’t show that range in the opener.  

Dropping dimes on ‘em – Probably the most impressive aspect of Minnesota’s opening victory against Omaha on offense were the 28 assists on 39 baskets. The assist total tied for the fifth highest in program history. Washington’s career-best 11 assists on just two turnovers led the way, but six different players had at least two assists, including four assists from Coffey and a career-high five assists from All-Big Ten Murphy. Passing out of double teams in the post with accuracy will be an important part of the game for Minnesota’s frontcourt this season. It will also allow the Gophers to try more high-low offensive sets with their big men as well. Getting transition baskets was a significant part of the offense on opening night with 28 fastbreak points, which was two times more than any game last season.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: plus-8. Series:  Utah leads series 2-1, including wins in the last two meetings 66-54 in Salt Lake City in 2003 and 75-72 in Raleigh, N.C. in 1959. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2Go Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (1-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG  

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 18.0

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 17.0

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 8.0

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 12.0

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 14.0

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 6.0 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.0 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 9.0 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 8.0 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 91-78 (6th season)  

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, was out for four-to-six weeks 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. Curry is expected to miss at least the first six games of the 2018-19 season.

UTAH UTES (1-0) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Sedrick Barefield 6-2 Sr. 18.0

G-Parker Van Dyke 6-3 Sr. 11.0

F-Timmy Allen 6-6 Fr. 6.0

F-Donnie Tillman 6-7 So. 15.0

F-Novak Topalovic 7-0 Sr. 9.0

Key reserves– Jayce Johnson, C, 7-0, Jr., 4.0 ppg; Both Gach, F, 6-7, Fr., 4.0 ppg; Riley Battin, F, 6-9, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Vante Hendrix, G, 6-5, RS-Fr., 5.0 ppg.

Coach: Larry Krystkowiak 181-117 (10th season)  

Notable: The only time the Utes played a game in Minneapolis was when Rick Majerus coached against Rick Pitino when Utah lost to Kentucky 101-70 in the Sweet 16 at the Metrodome on March 21, 1996. The Utes were led by future NBA players Andre Miller, Keith Van Horn and Michael Doleac. Two years later, Kentucky coached by Tubby Smith would defeat Majerus and Utah in the NCAA title game in San Antonio … Freshman forward Both Gach played his high school ball at Austin in Minnesota, but he signed with the Utes out of Compass Prep in Arizona in March. Gophers freshman Kalscheur played against Gach when DeLaSalle won its sixth straight Minnesota Class AAA state title against Austin in 2017.

Fuller’s predictionGophers 82, Utah 72. The Gophers will play the first of seven high major opponents in the next eight games Monday against the Utes, but this will be the last home game until Dec. 5 against Nebraska in an early start to Big Ten play. Gophers fans won’t be able to watch this team play in the Barn for almost a month, so Pitino’s team needs to leave them with a strong impression. New box scores for Division I college basketball games this season include plus-minus stats. It’s been a pleasant surprise for Pitino, who could see his team was at its best when Coffey (plus-31) and McBrayer (plus-29) were on the floor in the opener against Omaha. Coffey and McBrayer combined for 35 points in the starting backcourt, plus Minnesota got 11 assists from Washington off the bench. Expect another stellar game from the Gophers on the perimeter Monday against Utah since they lack depth outside of seniors Barefield and Van Dyke. Oturu, Murphy and Omersa will need to run the floor to take advantage of their athleticism in the open floor against the Utes size advantage inside.

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