Gophers men’s hoops at Utah

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Bench scoring – The Gophers have been outscored 35-4 in the last two games in bench points, including 15-0 in Tuesday night’s loss at Butler. Pitino has historically leaned heavily on his starters. Sophomore forward Jarvis Omersa will make his first career start Friday in place of senior Alihan Demir. Omersa brought energy and rebounding off the bench when he started in place of Demir in the second half vs. Butler. But Omersa fouled out in 19 minutes. Demir and freshman Isaiah Ihnen could now provide a lift in the frontcourt off the bench. Ihnen missed three games with a right wrist injury. The 6-9 Ihnen, a former four-star recruit, could potentially create a spark offensively with his shooting ability and defensively with his length (7-4). Senior forward Michael Hurt made solid contributions when called upon in the first two games, but his playing time was limited after some early mistakes vs. Butler. Freshman Tre’ Williams is the only player who has scored off the bench in the last two games on 1-for-5 shooting from the field. Freshman point guard Bryan Greenlee has averaged 3.3 minutes. Center Sam Freeman hasn’t played in three games.

Big Dan’s impact – The Gophers talented sophomore center Daniel Oturu showed glimpses of his potential last season when he led all Big Ten freshmen in four categories. The 6-foot-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall star has taken his game to another level this year by averaging 18.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks in three games. Oturu could be even more dominant and lead the Gophers to victory if his teammates help him. In Tuesday night’s 64-56 loss at Butler, the Gophers missed on several post entry opportunities for Oturu and others in the frontcourt. Oturu battled through the stomach flu all night, but he worked relentlessly to get open, especially on screen-and-roll plays. Helping Oturu isn’t just about getting him the ball consistently. Demir has just six points on 2-for-8 shooting from the field [0-for-2 from three-point line] and six rebounds in the last two losses. Will Richard Pitino decide to play Omersa more against Utah? Could the Gophers also put Ihnen next to Oturu for more length inside?  

Die by the three – Three-point shooting hasn’t been much better this season for the Gophers at 32.1 percent [27-for-84] through three games. That’s compared to 31.7 percent shooting in 2018-19, which was 300th nationally. They hit 13 three-pointers in the season opener vs. Cleveland State, but it’s been abysmal from beyond the arc since at 25 percent [14-for-55] in losses to Butler and Oklahoma. Payton Willis, Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur combined for just 4-for-19 shooting from three Tuesday at Butler. Kalscheur is having a sophomore slump, dropping from 41 percent to 31.8 percent [7-for-22 shooting from three compared to his freshman year. He’ll bounce back soon. Last season, Kalscheur had his first breakout game with 19 points on 5-for-6 shooting from three-point range in a 78-69 win at home vs. Utah.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: John M. Huntsman Center. Line: Minnesota 5-point underdogs. Series: Minnesota and Utah series tied 2-2, including 78-69 Gophers win in the last meeting at Williams Arena Nov. 12, 2018. TV: Pac-12 Network. Online/Live video: Pac-12 Network App Radio: 100.3.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (1-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G - Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So.  14.3

G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 15.0

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 8.3

F - Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 5.3

C - Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 18.3

Reserves–Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.3 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.7 ppg; Bryan Greenlee, G, 6-0, Fr., 0.0 ppg; Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 2.3 ppg; Sam Freeman, C, 6-10, Fr.

Coach: Richard Pitino 131-108 (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.

UTAH UTES (2-0) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Rylan Jones 6-1 175 Fr. 9.5

G – Booth Gach 6-6 183 So. 17.0

G – Timmy Allen 6-6 204 So. 24.5

F – Riley Battin 6-9 234 So. 12.0

C – Branden Carlson 7-0 218 Fr. 11.0

Key reserves– Matt Van Komen, C, 7-4, Fr., 12.0 ppg; Jaxon Brenchley, G, 6-5, Fr., 8.0 ppg; Mikael Jantunen, F, 6-8, Fr., 3.5 ppg Alfonso Plummer, G, 6-1, Jr., 10.5 ppg; Eli Ballstaedt, G, 6-5, Fr., 12.0 ppg.

Coach: Larry Krystkowiak 199-130 (11th season)  

Notable: The Utes set a Division I record for margin of victory in their last game by defeating Mississippi Valley State 145-43. Freshman Rylan Jones and sophomore Both Gach both had triple doubles. Gach, an Austin, Minn. product, is averaging 17 points, six assists and five rebounds per game this season. Utah ranks 13th in the nation in average height [78.5], which includes having six players 6-foot-8 or taller. Seven-foot freshman Branden Carlson and 6-9 sophomore Riley Battin start in the frontcourt. But 7-4 freshman Matt Van Komen comes off the bench as the tallest player in the Pac-12.

Fuller’s predictionUtah 78, Gophers 69

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Gophers top basketball recruit Ihnen expected to debut Friday at Utah

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Oturu's hot start is bright spot during U basketball's losing streak