Oklahoma State vs. Gophers men’s basketball (inaugural U.S. Bank Stadium Classic)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Handling the pressure – Oklahoma State knows exactly what its identity is -- playing fast on offense and defense. Cowboys second-year coach Mike Boynton was an assistant under Brad Underwood at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State, so he adopted the same uptempo and aggressive ball pressure that pushes the ball and creates havoc defensively. Illinois leads the Big Ten forcing 18.4 turnovers a game. Boynton’s squad isn’t quite at that level yet, but the Cowboys did upset No. 19 LSU 90-77 after forcing 16 turnovers, including six from Tigers sophomore guard Tremont Waters. The Gophers love to run and play a transition style as well. But the last time Amir Coffey faced this type of pressure it didn’t look good when he committed six of Minnesota’s season-high 20 turnovers against Texas A&M, which included 16 for the team in the first half. Dispersing the ball-handling duties between Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Isaiah Washington will be a must, but so will passing instead of dribbling out of trouble.
Paint touches – The Gophers have faced primarily zone defenses the last several games daring them to shoot the ball – and they have failed miserably (36 percent shooting in the last four games). Outside shooting isn’t a strength no matter how much time you spend practicing. So why not play to your strength. That’s definitely playing through All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy, who is leading the Gophers with 14.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game (second in the Big Ten). Murphy had 11 of his 16 points in the first half of Monday’s loss at Boston College. Minnesota trailed by one. Even before he fouled out in the second half, Murphy was not getting consistent touches when he was in the game. Zone defenses make it difficult to score in the paint, but the Gophers need to find ways to get Murphy the ball. Whether it’s flashing to the middle or on the baseline. He’s averaging a team-best 3.7 assists per game, so Murphy should be able to find the open man when he’s double teamed. Daniel Oturu got some good looks inside by crashing the offensive boards Monday, but he was just 3-for-9 from the field, including two missed dunks. The 6-foot-10 freshman becoming more of a scoring threat will allow Murphy to get more touches as well.
Time for some Jelly – This might be the perfect game for Isaiah Washington to get going. The sophomore point guard from New York is off to a rough start this season after his 11-assist performance in the opener against Omaha. Minnesota hasn’t been able to play much in transition and speed up the tempo since then. That has affected Washington’s effectiveness. He’s not the type of player who can sit back and pick apart defenses with his jump shot. Making plays off the dribble will be a challenge against Oklahoma State’s ball pressure, but Washington is the team’s best ball handler. Shot selection is always his Kryptonite. Can the Jelly Fam king play under control and have his first breakout game this season? The Gophers need Washington to show the potential he did at the end of last season (averaged 13 points and three assists in the last nine games) sooner than later. He’s averaging just 4.3 points on 21 percent shooting from the field this season.
Time: 9:00 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: U.S. Bank Stadium. Line: plus-4. Series: Minnesota and Oklahoma State are tied 3-3. Last victory came with the Cowboys 66-62 win in Sioux Falls, S.D. in 2015. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (5-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 14.0
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.5
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 13.5
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.3
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 8.7
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.3 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., 4.8 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 2.0 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 92-78 (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 the first six 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 could return in the next two weeks. His status is currently day-to-day. Coffey twisted his ankle in the second half Monday, but he returned to the game.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (4-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Isaac Likekele 6-4 Fr. 8.8
G-Thomas Dziagwa 6-4 Jr. 12.7
G-Lindy Waters III 6-6 Jr. 11.8
F-Cameron McGriff 6-7 Jr. 16.8
C-Yor Anei 6-10 Fr. 5.7
Key reserves– Michael Weathers, G, 6-2, So., 10.2 ppg; Michael Cunningham, G, 6-1, Sr., 10.0 ppg; Duncan Demuth, F, 6-8, Fr., 1.3 ppg.
Coach: Mike Boynton 25-17 (2nd season)
Notable: Oklahoma State is riding high after a 90-77 win against No. 19 LSU to finish third in the Advocare Invitational in Florida over Thanksgiving weekend. The Cowboys were predicted to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason poll after losing five players from a 21-win team that upset Kansas twice last season. Cameron McGriff scored a career-best 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting in the Nov. 25 win against LSU. McGriff’s scoring average improved 8.4 to 17.2 points per game from last season to this year through six games.
Fuller’s prediction (My record is 5-1): Gophers 80, Oklahoma State 76. The Gophers are coming off their first loss of the season in humbling fashion in a 12-point loss at Boston College on Monday night. What better way to get back on track then in front of Minnesota fans at the first ever major college basketball game at U.S. Bank Stadium (St. Thomas and River Falls play in the earlier game Friday night). The Cowboys are expecting their Big 10 opponent to continue to stink it up from the outside against a zone defense. So why not do the opposite. Pitino will force the ball to Murphy and Oturu inside, hoping his talented frontcourt tandem don’t get into foul trouble and can take control of the game in the paint. That will give the Gophers some balance offensively, and take pressure off an average shooting team to win the game on jump shots. Minnesota needs this win desperately to take some momentum into two tough early Big Ten games against Ohio State and Nebraska on Sunday and Wednesday.