Gophers at Northwestern

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

COFFEY CONNECTION–Gophers freshman Amir Coffey will have his sister,  Nia, and family in attendance Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Nia is a senior forward for the Wildcats – one of the top players in the Big Ten. Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” will air a segment Sunday on the Coffey siblings’ relationship and Big Ten connection. Obviously, Richard Coffey was a star with the Gophers in the late 1980s, but his daughter has carved out quite a career for herself. Amir has been proud of his sister’s accomplishments at Northwestern, but he also hopes to surpass them one day. That will be a tough task, but playing well in important Big Ten games like Thursday night is a good start.

SPRINGS HOMECOMING– Milwaukee-Wisconsin graduate transfer Akeem Springs is from Waukegan, Ill., which is about 40 minutes away from Northwestern’s campus in Evanston. The 6-foot-4 senior guard began his career at Northern Illinois, but he transferred after his freshman season. Springs has a different role with the Gophers, but he’s been their top scorer off the bench with 8.6 points per game on 38.2 percent shooting from three-point range.

MASON’S ENCORE– How can Nate Mason top his 31-point, 11-assist performance in Sunday’s overtime win at Purdue? The Gophers junior guard became the first player in school history to record a 30-point, 10-assist game, so the odds of it happening back-to-back games is unlikely. The last Gophers player to post consecutive 30-point games was Vincent Grier against Wisconsin and Northwestern in 2004-05. Mason’s matchup with Northwestern junior Bryant McIntosh will be intriguing since they are two of the best point guards in the Big Ten.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena. Line: Northwestern by 3 1/2. Series: Gophers leads 94-66 (excluding vacated games); Minnesota lost last meeting 82-58 Feb. 4 in Evanston. TV: ESPNU. Online/Live video: ESPNapp Radio: 1500ESPN.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (13-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.7

G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 12.7

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.0

F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 11.0

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.2

Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 6.7 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.2 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 82-67 (5th season)  

Notable: The Gophers broke an eight-game road losing streak in West Lafayette with Sunday’s 91-82 win at Purdue. They are looking to win at Northwestern for the first time since 2014. Richard Pitino and Chris Collins entered the Big Ten at the same time in 2013-14. They are the two youngest coaches in the conference as well. Collins is 21-35 in the Big Ten. Pitino is 17-38 in the conference in his fourth season.

NORTHWESTERN (12-3, 1-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Bryant McIntosh 6-3 Jr. 11.7

G-Scottie Lindsey 6-5 Jr. 15.7

G-Vic Law 6-7 RS-So. 13.7

F-Sanjay Lumpkin 6-6 RS-Sr. 7.6

C-Barret Benson 6-10 Fr. 2.5

Key reserves–Gavin Skelley, C, 6-8, Jr., 8.1 ppg; Isiah Brown, G, 6-2, Fr., 7.4 ppg; Nathan Taphorn, F, 6-7, Sr., 5.6 ppg; Dererk Pardon, C/F, 6-8, So., 6.9 ppg.

Coach: Chris Collins 61-51 (4th season)  

Notable: The Wildcats have won 13 straight home games at Welsh-Ryan Arena, which ties a school record. A win against Minnesota at home on Feb. 4 started their streak last season. Northwestern’s last home loss was against Michigan State 76-45 Jan. 28, 2016.

Fuller’s prediction (13-2 picks record)Gophers 76, Northwestern 71. The Gophers and the Wildcats are both in the latest NCAA tournament projections by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi Thursday. Minnesota is a No. 7 seed and Northwestern is No. 11. It’s way too early to know if these projections will hold up in March. But both teams could be looking at this game as either a big resume boost or failed opportunity to get a step closer to landing an NCAA bid. In Northwestern’s case it would be the first berth in history. That might make Collins’ crew a bit uptight Thursday with a lot of talk in town already about the possibility of being a part of March Madness for the first time.  

                                                                                           

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Top Big Ten point guards Mason and McIntosh face off tonight

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Postgame: Gophers turn into road warriors to start the Big Ten season