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Big Ten player of the year candidates meet with Murphy and Bates-Diop

Ohio State vs. GOPHERS at Madison Square Garden

Three things to watch:

MURPHY VS. BATES-DIOP – Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop are both 6-foot-7 junior forwards and Big Ten player of the year candidates. Murphy had the early edge after leading the league in scoring and rebounding at midseason. His numbers dropped in conference play, but Murphy is still averaging 18.1 points and a league-best 12.1 rebounds. After watching his double-double streak end at 17 straight games in blowout losses to Northwestern (eight points and two rebounds) and Purdue (nine points and four rebounds), Murphy got back to his old ways with 22 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime win at Penn State on Monday and 19 points and 14 rebounds in a loss at Maryland on Thursday. Bates-Diop is the only other player besides Murphy this season with three Big Ten player of the week honors. He leads the conference now in scoring (21.4) and ranks third in rebounding (9.3) in league games. Bates-Diop’s most memorable performance so far was a 32-point game in a Jan. 7 upset at then-No. 1 Michigan State. He was held to his second fewest points this season in a win at Northwestern on Wednesday with 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting.

JELLY TIME? – Gophers coach Richard Pitino was asked after Thursday’s loss to Maryland why highly-touted freshman Isaiah Washington hasn’t played much lately. Washington, who is averaging a team-best 6.9 points off the bench this season, was scoreless for the first time in his career in back-to-back games where he played just nine minutes combined against Penn State and Maryland. Pitino said “He’s just got to learn and grow and continue to work at it through practice. If he can do that he’s going to get better. He certainly has the talent to do it.” Washington started twice this season but struggled on both occasions shooting 10-for-34 from the field combined against Miami (Fla.) and Harvard. He does have five double-figure scoring games this season, including a 14-point performance the last time he played in front of his home state fans in a bizarre 5-on-3 game victory Nov. 25 against Alabama in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. Fellow freshman guard Jamir Harris took a backseat to Washington for most of the season, but he has emerged to score 16 and 10 points in consecutive starts. Harris is a much better three-point shooter than Washington (41.7 to 18.2 percent).

PICKING UP THE D – It’s no surprise the Gophers are missing Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch, who has been suspended the last five games for an alleged sexual misconduct incident. But just how much Minnesota’s defense has dropped off since Lynch’s departure is a concern. Pitino’s team held five straight opponents to 39 percent shooting are below before Lynch missed his first game Jan. 6 against Indiana. The last five opponents for Minnesota have combined to shoot 47 percent, including Maryland’s 56 percent shooting Thursday.  

GAME INFO

Time: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Madison Square Garden. Line: Ohio State by 9. Series: Ohio State leads 86-51. Last meeting Ohio State won 78-72 in Columbus on Jan. 25, 2017. TV: BTN Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (14-7, 3-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.6

G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.3

G – Jamir Harris 6-2 Fr. 4.3

F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 18.1

C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.7

Key reserves– Amir Coffey, G, 6-8, So., 14.1 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 6.9 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.3 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.0 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 107-82 (6th season)  

Notable: Coffey is back after missing five games with a right shoulder injury. His return means the Gophers will be at full strength in the backcourt for the first time since a Jan. 3 win against Illinois at home. The Gophers are 10-0 this season when Coffey has three or more assists in a game.

OHIO STATE (16-4, 7-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – C.J. Jackson 6-1 Sr. 13.3

G – Andrew Dakich 6-3 Sr. 3.7

F – Jae’Sean Tate 6-4 Jr. 12.5

F – Keita Bates-Diop 6-7 Jr. 19.8                                              

C – Kaleb Wesson 6-8 Fr. 11.1

Key reserves– Kam Williams, G, 6-2, Jr., 8.4 ppg; Micah Potter, F/C, 6-9, 4.4 ppg; Musa Jallow, F, 6-7, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Andre Wesson, G, 6-2, So., 2.3 ppg; Kyle Young, F, 6-5, Fr., 1.9 ppg.

Coach: Chris Holtmann 130-89 (7th season)  

Notable:  Bates-Diop is the first Ohio State player since Michael Redd in 1998 to score 25 points or more in three straight games. Bates-Diop had 27 points at Iowa, 32 points at Michigan State and 26 points vs. Maryland earlier this season.

Fuller’s prediction (17-4 picks record)Gophers 80, Ohio State 78. The return of Amir Coffey from injury made me switch my prediction at the last minute. Imagine what the Buckeyes were thinking when the news came out before Saturday’s game. Coffey is the biggest matchup problem for any opponent when it comes to the Gophers with his size and versatility. How much rust will Coffey have after missing five games? He typically can make an impact without scoring and by getting other players involved. So his presence should take pressure off Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer. Jamir Harris starting the last couple games will give him confidence as well moving forward.

Another big three-point shooting night could be huge for Gophers

GOPHERS at Maryland

Three things to watch:

THREE-POINT SHOOTING– The Gophers are ranked 12th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (31.9) through their first six league games. Then they suddenly found their confidence from beyond the arc in Monday’s 95-84 overtime win at Penn State. Minnesota shot 10-for-17 from long distance. All of that came from three players. Nate Mason was 4-for-5, Dupree McBrayer was 3-for-4 and Jamir Harris was 3-for-6 in his first career start. Two of Harris’ three-pointers came in overtime to help him score 10 of his season-high 16 points in the extra period. Hitting 10 threes in a game is rare for the Gophers, who have only done it twice this season and averaged 6.3 threes in Big Ten games. But Mason (42.7), Harris (40.9) and McBrayer (40.6) all shoot 40-percent or better from deep. Sophomore forward Michael Hurt also can be a three-point threat at 36.4 percent.

BACKCOURT BOOST – Mason, McBrayer and Harris combined for 65 points and 10 three-pointers in Monday’s win at Penn State. That was the most points three starting guards scored in the same game for the Gophers all season. Sophomore Amir Coffey’s 14.1 points per game is surely missed, but finding a third offensive option in the backcourt takes a lot of pressure off Mason and McBrayer. Harris was the answer against the Nittany Lions. The next time could be fellow freshman Isaiah Washington’s opportunity to shine. Washington went scoreless for the first time this season in a season-low two minutes Monday, but he has five double-figure scoring games this season, which included a team-high 11 points against Purdue last week.  

MURPHY’S FOULS– The Gophers have arguably the least depth in the frontcourt out of any team in the Big Ten, especially with senior center Reggie Lynch (suspension) and sophomore forward Eric Curry (knee) out of the picture. There are bodies available with junior Davonte Fitzgerald and seniors Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou, but they haven’t been reliable for much production when given more playing time this season. That means all is lost when junior star Jordan Murphy gets into foul trouble. That is the worst possible thing that could happen Thursday. For example, Murphy picked up two quick fouls and sat almost the entire first half in last week’s loss at Northwestern. Minnesota trailed by 20 points by the time he returned to the floor. Murphy also is far less aggressive attacking the boards and bullying his way to the rim with foul trouble. He avoided that Monday and dominated the paint the way he’s capable of with 22 points and 19 rebounds in a career-high 43 minutes. That ended a two-game stretch without reaching a double-double.

GAME INFO

Time: 7:30 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: XFINITY Center. Line: Maryland by 8.5. Series: Maryland leads 6-2. Last meeting Minnesota won 89-75 in College Park on Feb. 22, 2017. TV: FS1 Online/Live video: Fox Sports Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (14-6, 3-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.7

G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.4

G – Jamir Harris 6-2 Fr. 3.9

F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 18.1

C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.2 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.0 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 107-81 (6th season)  

Notable: Mason’s 25-point performance Monday against Penn State included 14 points in the first half with four three-pointers. The senior point guard became the eighth player in Gophers history to reach 1,500 points in his career 

MARYLAND (14-6, 3-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – Anthony Cowan 6-0 So. 16.4

G – Darryl Morsell 6-4 Fr. 8.6

G – Jared Nickens 6-7 Sr. 4.9

G – Kevin Huerter 6-7 So. 13.9                                                  

C – Michal Cekovsky 7-1 Sr. 7.1

Key reserves– Bruno Fernando, C, 6-10, Fr., 10.2 ppg; Dion Wiley, G, 6-4, Jr., 5.8 ppg; Joshua Tomaic, F, 6-9, Fr., 3.2 ppg; Sean Obi, C, 6-9, Sr., 1.8 ppg; Reese Mona, G, 6-2, Fr., 1.1 ppg.

Coach: Mark Turgeon 388-227 (20th season)  

Notable: Maryland lost forwards Justin Jackson (shoulder) and Ivan Bender (knee) to season-ending injuries. But Wiley reportedly returns Thursday after missing two games with a concussion … Three of the last four Terrapins games have been on the road, including losses to Michigan State 91-61, Ohio State 91-69 and Michigan 68-67 … Cowan ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (20.3 points) in league games, while making 19 three-pointers on 48.7 percent shooting.  

Fuller’s prediction (16-4 picks record)Maryland 78, Gophers 70. Maryland has something in common with both Northwestern and Purdue. They all lost to the Gophers last season at home. The other two opponents got revenge in a big way combining to beat Minnesota by 57 points. The Terps definitely will have last year’s 14-point loss in College Park on their mind. But they are missing several key pieces like Minnesota is without Coffey and Lynch. It comes down to whether Mason, McBrayer and Murphy can outplay Maryland’s talented threesome of Cowan, Huerter and Fernando. The Gophers finally gave themselves some relief by ending the three-game losing streak since all the adversity hit. But will not being able to go home on a long road trip and having played heavy minutes in the overtime win wear out the Gophers down the stretch Thursday night? We’ll find out.

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