Three things to watch:

COFFEY AT THE POINT – One thing that has changed more than anything in Minnesota’s offense with Amir Coffey playing point guard this fall is ball movement. There’s just a lot more of it. Everyone is getting touches. That’s the biggest advantage to having a naturally unselfish and skillful passer like Coffey running the show. Sure, it’s his first time in the floor leader role in college, and he’s much bigger than your typical point at 6-foot-8. But so far it seems like a great fit for the junior from Hopkins. Not only is he facilitating, Coffey seems more aggressive scoring (22 points in the Maroon and Gold scrimmage) with the ball in his hands more often. Will he remain the Gophers’ lead guard in the season opener Tuesday vs. Nebraska Omaha? Whether he does or not, Richard Pitino needs Coffey, as well as sophomore Isaiah Washington and senior Dupree McBrayer to help with ball-handling duties. In an ideal world, Pitino would hear back from the NCAA soon about Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr having his waiver to play immediately granted. Carr was a starter at Pitt as a freshman last season, leading the team in assists.

NEWCOMERS – Gophers fans will get their first glimpse Thursday in an actual game of the five newcomers eligible to play this season. Freshmen Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur are expected to be in the starting lineup, while seniors Brock Stull and Matz Stockman and freshman Jarvis Omersa will likely come off the bench against Minnesota Duluth. Oturu and Kalscheur, who were finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award last season, combined for 25 points in the Oct. 20 secret scrimmage at Creighton. They are also both two of the team’s top defenders despite their inexperience. Stockman sat out last season after transferring from Louisville, but he was impressive in Sunday’s Maroon and Gold scrimmage with 17 points. Stull, a sharpshooting graduate transfer from Milwaukee, will provide depth at shooting guard and small forward. Omersa's athleticism and length make him a reserve candidate in both post spots. Carr and Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis are not able to play in Thursday’s exhibition game, because they are currently sitting out the season.

MOTIVATED MURPHY – Arguably the most productive offensive player inside the three-point arc in the country through the first half of the season, Jordan Murphy’s name was on several national player of the year candidate lists in November and December. He was leading the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding during that stretch, but his stats slid a bit once the Gophers suffered the loss of three starters to injury and off-court issues. Still, Murphy averaged 16.8 points and a Big-Ten best 11.3 rebounds (the second highest rebounding average in the conference in more than a decade). He led the nation with 24 double-doubles, but Murphy did not crack the top 25 of any college basketball player ranking in the preseason. Some rankings even had him outside of the top 60!? What does that all mean? Well, nothing except Murphy should enter his senior year with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove he’s worthy of All-American consideration. Not just a one-man show, Minnesota’s upgraded frontcourt should help Murphy be even better this season.


Time: 7 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: None. Series:  Minnesota leads 2-0; Minnesota won 67-59 on Nov. 12, 2001 and 95-68 in the last meeting on Nov. 6, 2014. TV: None. Online/Live video: BTN Plus Radio: None.


MINNESOTA (15-17 last season)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG (last season)

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 14.0

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.4

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr.

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 16.8

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr.

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 8.7 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 3.2 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 13.4 ppg (Wisconsin-Milwaukee); Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr.; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr.

Coach: Richard Pitino 90-78 (6th season)  

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, is out for four-to-six weeks after knee surgery Monday. Curry averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native started in the Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton, but he was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his knee swelling last weekend. Curry is expected to miss at least the first six games of the 2018-19 season ... McBrayer missed Sunday's scrimmage to be with his ailing mother in New York. But McBrayer returned to the team and will play Thursday.

MINNESOTA DULUTH (12-18 last season)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Logan Rohrscheib 6-2 Jr. 11.9

G- Hunter Plamann 6-1 Fr.

G- Mamadou Ngom 6-3 Sr. 5.5

F- Brandon Myer 6-7 Jr. 19.8

F- Sean Burns 6-5 Sr. 8.3

Key reserves– Luke Harris, F, 6-8, Jr., 9.4 ppg; Trevor Entwisle, G, 5-11, Jr. 7.3 ppg; Ryan Kaczynski, F, 6-4, Sr., 3.3 ppg; Jake Paper, F, 6-7, So., 2.9 ppg; Xavier Cummings, G, 6-1, So., 3.7 ppg.

Coach: Justin Wieck (1st season)  

Notable: First-year Duluth coach Justin Wieck played on Iowa’s basketball team from 2004-06 going from a walk-on to a scholarship forward in his last season. The Hawkeyes made two NCAA tournament appearances during his career, which after a Big Ten tournament title in 2006. The last time Wieck played at Williams Arena was getting off the bench for a minute in Iowa’s 74-61 loss at Minnesota in 2006 (current Gophers team radio analyst Spencer Tollackson was a sophomore reserve). Wieck was a graduate assistant (2006-08) for Steve Alford and video coordinator for Todd Lickliter (2008-10) with the Hawkeyes. Fast forward to his most recent coaching stint, Wieck was a Minnesota-Moorhead assistant from 2014-18.

Fuller’s predictionGophers 82, Minnesota Duluth 65.  The Gophers’ offense is much further ahead than their defense at this point, but that probably won’t matter with the first few opponents this season, including Thursday night. Coffey and Murphy are one of the top scoring inside-outside tandems in the Big Ten. McBrayer is a double-digit scoring threat. Oturu and Kalscheur were efficient offensively in the scrimmage against Creighton, leading the starters and bench in scoring, respectively. Not that Oturu is replacing Curry in the starting lineup it will be up to Pitino to establish some scoring presence off the bench. That could be Stull once he gets comfortable after missing the summer trying to graduate. Washington and Hurt also both played well during a rough stretch at the end of the 2017-18 season.