Mount St. Mary’s at Gophers

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Inside presence – The Gophers could have one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten, if Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry keep making their presence felt by dunking, blocking and controlling the boards in nonconference play. They combined for 37 points, 24 rebounds and five blocks in Monday’s win against Texas-Arlington. In the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, Lynch, Curry and Murphy had 25 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. Last season, Minnesota’s lone inside presence was Murphy, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds with nine double-doubles. His scoring numbers are currently down, but there’s less pressure for him to carry the load every night. Good sign? Murphy shot 2-for-9 from the field, but he had his first double-double on Monday with 11 points and 12 rebounds. 

Sticking with seven – Remember when Tubby Smith used a platoon system with 10 players substituting in and out. Well, after two games, Richard Pitino has made it clear he is most comfortable with a seven-man rotation. Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Murphy and Lynch started both games. Akeem Springs and Eric Curry were the first two players off the bench. Only foul trouble forced Pitino to play either Michael Hurt, Ahmad Gilbert or Bakary Konate. The difference between Springs’ minutes (19.5) and the next closest player below (Hurt’s 6.5 minutes per game) is pretty significant. Settling on a smaller rotation this early can help build chemistry and confidence. But it also can frustrate some players and possibly keep them from developing. This is a tough call. I’d expand it to at least eight players.

Three-point defense – Now that Minnesota’s a better rebounding team (won battle of boards 47-32 against Arlington), the biggest area of concern defensively is probably guarding the perimeter. Arlington took a 41-35 halftime lead Monday night after hitting 9-for-18 three-pointers in the first half. Pitino’s team used a 28-3 run to come from behind and win. A halftime adjustment of doing more switching on screens helped the Gophers allow only 1-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc in the second half. That might not happen again this season, but other opponents will continue to shoot from deep. The Mountaineers aren’t a great three-point shooting team (34.1 percent) this season.

GAME INFO

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: none  Series: Gophers lead 2-0; won last meeting, 85-56, at home in 2011. TV: None. Online/Live video: BTN Plus, BTN2go app. Radio: 1500-AM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (2-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.0

G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 14.0

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 11.5

F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 8.5

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 R-Jr. 12.5

Key reserves – Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 7.0 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 9 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 53-51 (4 seasons)  

Notable: The Gophers are trying to start 3-0 for the first time since Pitino’s inaugural season in 2013-14. But their scoring numbers after two games (170 points) is the highest since the 2001-02 team started with 172 points. Don’t be surprised if Minnesota reaches the 80-plus point mark for the third straight game. That hasn’t happened in 15 years as well.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S (0-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Junior Robinson 5-5 Jr. 6.0

G-Elijah Long 6-0 So. 16.5

G-Greg Alexander 6-4 Sr. 10.5

F-Chris Wray 6-8 Sr. 4.0

F-Mawdo Sallah 6-9 So. 1.5

Key reserves – Miles Wilson, G, 6-5, Fr., 11.0 ppg; Wes Miller, F, 6-6, Sr., 3.0 ppg; Ryan Gomes, C, 6-10, Fr., 2.0 ppg

Coach: Jamion Christian 63-67 (5 seasons)  

Notable: The Mountaineers have their own version of Spud Webb, the 5-foot-6 former NBA Slam Dunk champion. Robinson is actually an inch shorter than Webb, but can perform 360, windmill and reverse dunks with a 45-inch vertical, according to his coach. Robinson hasn’t gotten off to a great start this year, but he was an All-Northeast Conference player last season.

Fuller’s prediction (2-0 record)Gophers 75, Mount St. Mary’s 63. The Gophers won't be able to rely on outside shooting consistently, but their inside game should be too tough for most midmajor teams. Lynch, Murphy and Curry shot 17-for-18 from the free-throw line against Arlington. Fouling was about the only way to stop them. That will be the case Wednesday night with Jordan Murphy having his first breakout offensive perforamance of the season. Murphy is averaging just 8.5 points, but he is too talented to struggle for long. He'll figure out how to blend his game with newcomers Lynch and Curry. Pitino will tell his players to get the bouncy 6-foot-7 sophomore the ball early. Expect a highlight dunk or two or three from Murphy against Mount St. Mary's.

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