Gophers men’s basketball at Ohio State

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

NO BATES-DIOP, NO PROBLEM? – When Jordan Murphy steps on the court he’s typically the best big man out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll have the biggest impact on the game. That was the case when Murphy had 24 points and 16 rebounds in Friday’s 83-76 win against Oklahoma State at U.S. Bank Stadium. Murphy needs just one rebound to become the 14th player in Big Ten history to reach 1,000 boards in his career, which would continue to distance himself in the school record books. He’ll probably get that on the first defensive possession since he leads the country in not just rebounds per game (12.7), but also defensive rebounding percentage (36.9). When Ohio State and Minnesota met once last season Murphy had a chance to prove he was a Big Ten player of the year candidate, but he was outplayed by Keita Bates-Diop, who eventually won the award and got drafted by the Timberwolves. The Buckeyes are pretty thin depth-wise inside, but 6-foot-9, 270-pound Kaleb Wesson is a load in the paint. Wesson is Ohio State’s answer for Murphy, leading the team in scoring (14.4) and rebounding (6.5) this season. So Minnesota’s 6-10, 230-pound freshman Daniel Oturu defending Wesson could be the key matchup Sunday. Oturu has struggled against bigger and more physical centers this season, so 7-foot senior Matz Stockman might be needed early if the young big man gets in foul trouble.   

MORE COFFEY, PLEASE – The Gophers need lots and lots of Coffey on Sunday night. In last season’s 18-point loss to Ohio State in New York, Amir Coffey returned after a five-game absence with a shoulder injury, but he was not fully healthy. Coffey, who had just 11 points in 35 minutes against the Buckeyes in January, only played one more game before he was sidelined for the season following surgery. The 6-8 junior from Hopkins is back healthy and playing a new position at point guard. Coffey is the Gophers’ best facilitator but he’s not leading the team in assists (Murphy’s averaging 3.5 to Coffey’s 2.9).How will Coffey be better at dishing it out? Maybe when he’s even more aggressive offensively taking the ball to the basket, and also shooting over the defense from beyond the arc. If opponents don’t respect his scoring, then Coffey needs to remind them why he is arguably the U’s top NBA prospect. Taking pressure away from Coffey to handle point guard duties in the last game was sophomore Isaiah Washington, who broke out of a slump to start the year with 15 points and four assists off the bench.

FREE THROWS – How did the Gophers pull out Friday’s win despite nearly giving up an 18-point lead in the second against Oklahoma State? They took care of business from the foul line. Minnesota hit 23-for-30 on free throws in the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic victory, which includes going 6 of 8 in the final 1:14. Murphy shot a season-best 11-for-14 on the night. The Cowboys on the other hand struggled with 12-for-24 foul shooting, including 9-for-17 in the second half. That basically was the difference in the game. Ohio State ranks third in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (73.7), while Minnesota is 11th at 67 percent.

GAME INFO

Time: 6 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Value City Arena. Line: minus-8.5. Series: Ohio State leads the all-time series 86-57, including 12 of the last 14 meetings. Last game was won 67-49 by the Buckeyes on Jan. 20, 2018 at Madison Square Garden. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (6-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 13.6

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.6

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 13.6

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 15.7

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 8.1

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 2.8 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 4.4 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.7 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 96-79 (6th season)  

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, has missed seven games 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’s making progress in recovery and could return in the next couple weeks.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (6-1) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-C.J. Jackson 6-1 Sr. 13.6

G-Keyshawn Woods 6-3 Sr. 8.0

F-Kyle Young 6-8 So. 7.6

F-Andre Wesson 6-6 Jr. 8.6

F-Kaleb Wesson 6-8 So. 14.4

Key reserves–Duane Washington Jr., G, 6-3, Fr., 8.6 ppg; Jaedon LeDee, F, 6-9, Fr., 2.7 ppg; Musa Jallow, G, 6-5, So., 2.6 ppg.

Coach: Chris Holtmann 144-95 (8th season)  

Notable: Ohio State is 29-4 against Minnesota when it is ranked in the Associated Press top 25. The Buckeyes have also only lost once in 11 games 10-1 vs. the Gophers at Value City Arena. Their last home loss against the Gophers was 60-56 in overtime on Jan. 19, 2005. The last regulation loss against Minnesota in Columbus was 73-67 on Jan. 18, 1997. The Buckeyes rank No. 2 nationally for the most home wins (154) since the 2009-10 season. Kentucky is just ahead with 156 ... Freshman Luther Muhammad suffered a dislocated shoudler in Ohio State's last game vs. Syracuse. Muhammad, who averaged 8.9 points and 27.9 minutes in a starting role will be out indefinitely. 

Fuller’s prediction (My record is 6-1)Ohio State 79, Gophers 67. The Gophers played by far their worst basketball so far their season the last time they were on the road in a 12-point loss at Boston College. And that wasn’t really a hostile crowd with barely 3,000 fans in attendance against the Eagles. This will be a completely different road experience for Minnesota’s newcomers, especially freshmen starters Gabe Kalscheur and Oturu. If the Gophers want to remain competitive Sunday, they need veterans like Murphy, Coffey and Dupree McBrayer to lead by example and vocally if they fall behind early. Even if Pitino’s team falls in the Big Ten opener, Minnesota still can bounce back against a quality opponent playing Wednesday against Nebraska at home.

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Pregame: Gophers vs. Oklahoma State in U.S. Bank Stadium Classic

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