Gophers at Rutgers
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
BLOCK PARTY– When the Gophers are blocking shots as often as they were Wednesday against Iowa they are hard to beat. Their 14 blocks in the double-overtime win was the most in program history in a Big Ten game. Big Ten block leader Reggie Lynch had his seventh game this season with at least five blocks, finishing with six blocks against the Hawkeyes. Jordan Murphy tied a season-high with four blocks, including three in the first half. The Gophers rank second in the NCAA in blocks per game (6.8), behind only Oregon (7.1). They have a 5-1 record when Lynch blocks at least five shots and plays 25 minutes or more.
MURPHY’S LAW– Murphy was averaging just 6.4 points in eight games leading into Wednesday’s 101-89 double-overtime win against Iowa. But the 6-foot-6 sophomore forward listened to his coaches’ advice to focus mainly on rebounding to score. He isn’t an outside shooter (3-for-21 from three-point range). But he dominated around the basket with 25 points and 19 rebounds against the Hawkeyes, including 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting and eight rebounds in the second half. It was probably the most confident Murphy has played all season. Another great sign was his 5-for-7 shooting from the foul line, considering he shoots 56.5 percent this season.
REBOUNDING EDGE– Rutgers is the worst shooting team in the Big Ten from the field (37.6 percent) and three-point line (27.9). So how do the Scarlet Knights stay competitive? They’re much improved defensively this year, but their strength is clearly rebounding. Rutgers is long and athletic, ranking second in the conference in rebounding margin (plus-2.5) and first in rebounding offense (39.9). The Gophers rank 10th in conference games in rebounding margin (minus-1), but they outrebounded Iowa 53-49. Murphy and Lynch combined for 32 rebounds.
Time: 11 A.M. CT, Saturday. Where: Rutgers Athletic Center. Line: Gophers by 5. Series: Minnesota leads 5-1; Rutgers won last meeting 75-52 March 5, 2016 in New Jersey. TV: ESPNU. Online/Live video: ESPNapp Radio: 1500ESPN.
MINNESOTA (17-7, 5-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.4
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.2
G-Akeem Springs 6-4 Sr. 10.3
F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 So. 10.0
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.6
Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, So., 10.9 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 5.8 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 1.8 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 1.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 86-72 (5th season)
Notable: Rutgers won just one Big Ten game last season going 1-17 during the regular season. That was against the Gophers 75-52 in Piscataway, N.J. Minnesota went 2-16 in the Big Ten last year, with its only two conference wins against Maryland and Rutgers at home. ... Murphy struggled as the only option in the second meeting with just seven points on 3-for-21 shooting in last year’s loss at Rutgers. Pitino had just five scholarship players at the time after he suspended guards Kevin Dorsey, Dupree McBrayer and Nate Mason the last four games of the season for team rules violations.
RUTGERS (13-12, 2-10)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Corey Sanders 6-1 So. 13.1
G-Mike Williams 6-2 Sr. 9.8
G-Isaa Thiam 6-9 Fr. 4.2
F-Deshawn Freeman 6-7 Jr. 11.4
C-C.J. Gettys 7-0 Sr. 7.7
Key reserves– Nigel Johnson, G, 6-1, RS-Jr., 10.6 ppg; Candido Sa, F, 6-9, Jr., 3.6 ppg; Eugene Omoruyi, F, 6-6, Fr., 2.3 ppg; Jonathan Laurent, F, 6-6, So., 3.2 ppg; Shaquille Doorson, C, 7-0, So., 1.2 ppg.
Coach: Steve Pikiell 209-186 (13th season)
Notable: Last season, Sanders and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine became the only two players to score 30-plus points and dish out 10-plus assists in the Big Ten in 20 years. As a freshman, he scored 39 points and had 12 assists in a triple-overtime loss against Illinois. Minnesota’s Mason joined that club this season with 31 points and 11 assists in an overtime win at Purdue.
Fuller’s prediction (21-3 picks record): Gophers 66, Rutgers 61. The Gophers are in the final stretch of the Big Ten regular season with no more room for error. They have a favorable schedule remaining with four of the last seven games at home. Saturday will be the last seemingly winnable road game of the season, because the last two are at Maryland and Wisconsin. If Pitino’s team can beat Rutgers and take care of business at home, it will be looking at a 10-8 conference record. That would be a lock for the NCAA tournament.