Gophers men’s hoops vs. Ohio State

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Shooting improvement? How will the Gophers’ backcourt respond after their worst shooting performance of the season in the Big Ten opening 72-52 loss at Iowa? Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Gabe Kalscheur were a combined 3 for 29 from the field, including 2 for 19 from three-point range. Willis, who had eight points on 2 for 9 shooting, has been hampered by a sore right ankle. Carr (two points on 1-for-10 shooting) and Kalscheur (no points on 0-for-10 shooting) had their worst games in maroon and gold on the same night. They will have to bounce back Sunday against an Ohio State defense ranked No. 2 in the nation in efficiency. Opponents have been shooting 33 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from three-point range against the Buckeyes this season. Carr had a career-high 24 points and nine assists in his last home game in a win vs. Clemson. Kalscheur also had five straight double figure scoring games (15 points vs. Clemson) before he went scoreless Monday for only the second time in his career. Can Richard Pitino find a way to ignite his backcourt in the biggest home game yet in the season Sunday night? Pitino emphasized more paint touches and getting to the foul line to help break their scoring slump.

Demir’s impact – Drexel transfer Alihan Demir is getting into his comfort zone in the Gophers starting frontcourt. Demir was an all-around difference maker in the first half of the Iowa loss. The 6-foot-9 Turkey native scored eight of his 13 points, to go with five rebounds and two blocks. Not only did Demir stretch the defense with a couple three-pointers, but he also gave the Gophers extra possessions by crashing the boards and defending the rim. Demir has scored in double figures three times in the last four games. He also is getting more comfortable with sophomore center Daniel Oturu, who is having a breakout year with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. Oturu and Demir playing well offensively could take pressure off the guards to carry the load against a stingy Buckeyes defense.  

Center battle – The only meeting between Oturu and Kaleb Wesson last season really didn’t seem like a fair fight. Oturu, only a freshman, was outweighed by nearly 60 pounds. He was also playing in his first Big Ten game. The inexperience and lack of girth was obvious against Wesson, who dominated Minnesota’s talented young center in the paint. A year later, Oturu has gained 20 pounds and is playing like one o the top centers in the Big Ten. Wesson lost 20 pounds and hasn’t needed to take over games on the block to allow the Buckeyes to crush opponents this year. Oturu has four 20-point games and six double-figure rebounding games this year. But Wesson was the best player on the court in Ohio State’s 106-74 win against Penn State last week. The 6-9, 270-pound junior had 28 points on 9 for 16 shooting (4 for 5 from three) and 10 rebounds in just 25 minutes. Will Pitino decide to defend Wesson 1-on-1 with Oturu to risk foul trouble? The center matchup could be the difference between a blowout and more competitive affair Sunday.

GAME INFO

Time: 5:30 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 8.5-point underdog. Series: Ohio State leads the series 88-51, including 79-59 loss in Columbus on Dec. 2, 2018. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 100.3.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (4-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 13.0

G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 11.6

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 10.8

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 7.8

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 18.0

Key reserves– Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 3.2 ppg; Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 2.8 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.2 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 2.1 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 134-111 (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  ... Gophers 2020 recruit Martice Mitchell is in attendance with other younger local targets Sunday. Mitchell, a 6-foot-10 senior at Chicago Heights Bloom, signed with the U in the early signing period last month .. The Gophers haven't beaten a top-5 opponent since an upset over No. 1 Indiana at home in 2013. 

NO. 3 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (9-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – C.J. Walker 6-1 195 Jr. 7.8

G – Duane Washington Jr. 6-3 190 So. 11.4

G – Luther Muhammad 6-3 185 So. 8.0

F – Kyle Young 6-8 205 Jr. 8.9

C – Kaleb Wesson 6-9 270 Jr. 14.1

Key reserves – D.J. Carton, G, 6-2, Fr., 9.9 ppg; Alonzo Gaffney, F, 6-9, Fr., 2.9 ppg; Andre Wesson, F, 6-6, Sr., 8.6 ppg; E.J. Liddell, F, 6-6, Fr., 7.2 ppg.  

Coach: Chris Holtmann 168-109 (9th season)  

Notable: The Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, so they have a chance to move up to the No. 1 spot after Louisville’s loss earlier in the week. Holtmann’s team is already the No. 1 squad in stat guru Ken Pomeroy’s national rankings … Ohio State hasn’t played in Minneapolis since a 78-68 loss to the Gophers on Jan. 8, 2017.

Fuller’s prediction (5-4 with picks): Ohio State 75, Gophers 65. 

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