GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS vs. IOWA
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Carr vs. Garza – Two of the top players in the Big Ten and the country at their position will try to lead their team to victory in Friday's Christmas Day showdown. Gophers junior guard Marcus Carr ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (23.9) and leads the conference in assists (6.0) and minutes per game (35.3). The Toronto native had his third career 30-point game and second this season with 32 points on 14-for-19 shooting from the foul line vs. St. Louis. The Gophers, who lead the nation with 23.4 free throws per game, made 34 free throws for the second time this season. Hawkeyes senior center Luka Garza leads the country and the Big Ten with 28.4 points per game, including four 30-point performances. Garza's streak of 20-point games could extend to 18 straight Friday against the Gophers. That would be the longest streak in the Big Ten since before 1987. In the last meeting in the series, Garza had 24 points and eight rebounds in a 58-55 Iowa win at the Barn on Feb. 16. Carr had just 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting. In two career games against the Hawkeyes, Carr has just 12 points on 4-for-22 shooting combined, including in a 72-52 loss in Iowa City last December.
Follow the Gophers-Iowa play-by-play here
Big man rotation – The Gophers suffered a blow to their frontcourt depth when junior forward Jarvis Omersa decided to opt out for the rest of the season due to COVID-19 concerns last week. Omersa, who energized the team off the bench, had a backup role the last two years at center and power forward. Richard Pitino started senior forward Brandon Johnson in last week's 90-82 win against St. Louis, but his playing time was limited to 12 minutes with a lingering ankle injury. Sophomore Isaiah Ihnen eventually saw the most time with starting center Liam Robbins in the frontcourt. The 6-foot-9 Ihnen finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes, which was his first career double-double. Robbins got into foul trouble for the fifth time in eight games this season. So, redshirt senior Eric Curry played backup center against St. Louis, finishing with a season-high nine points on 4-for-6 shooting. Ihnen and Curry combined for 19 of the team's 26 bench points. Robbins staying on the floor Friday against the Hawkeyes will be critical to put pressure on Garza. In the U's 27-point Big Ten-opening loss at Illinois, Kofi Cockburn had a career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds against the Gophers, who couldn't replace Robbins' inside presence.
Three-point shooting – The Hawkeyes leads the Big Ten with 10.8 three-point field goals per game this season, while shooting 37 percent. Having the top big man in college basketball allows Iowa to be even more dangerous from beyond the arc. But Garza shoots a team-best 58.6 percent (17-for-29) from long distance this season. Fredrick led the team last season and shoots 50 percent from deep (14-for-28). Senior Jordan Bohannon is 10th all-time in career three-pointers in Big Ten history. Iowa has made 10-plus three-pointers in six of eight games this season. Meanwhile, the Gophers are at the other end of the spectrum averaging just 6.9 threes this season, tied for 11th in the conference. They were dead last until coming alive with 10-for-25 three-point shooting in the win vs. St. Louis. Six different players hit from three, including Carr, Gabe Kalscheur, Both Gach and Jamal Mashburn Jr. with two each.
Free-throw shooting fancy – The Gophers shot 34-for-41 from the free throw line against St. Louis, which was then the third most made free throws for any Division I team in regulation. They currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten and nationally in free throws made per game (23.4) this year. It's a drastic improvement from last season when Minnesota ranked 285th nationally with 11.5 makes on foul shots per game. In the five early losses in November and early December last year, the Gophers shot just 57.8 percent at the foul line, but they also scored only 9.6 points a game on free throws. Getting to the line is a must for Pitino's teams since they are 6-15 when outshot by their opponent the last two seasons. The Gophers also shot 34-for-44 in a win against UMKC this year.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota seven-point underdog. Series: Minnesota leads the series 106-97, but it lost the last meeting 58-55 last season at the Barn. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 100.3 KFAN.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (7-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 23.9
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 9.5
G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 13.0
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 6.0
C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 11.9
Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, Sr., 5.1 ppg; Tre' Williams, G, 6-5, So., 3.4 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 4.3 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 151-123 (9th season overall)
Notable: In the Nov. 25 opener against Green Bay, Gophers redshirt senior big man Eric Curry played his first game since the 2018-19 season. Curry, who started the first two games, bounced back from his second major knee injury after missing last season following a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in preseason practice. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native is the last remaining scholarship player from the U's first NCAA tournament team under Pitino in 2017 … Sophomore guard Tre' Williams suffered a bruised leg in the win against UMKC. Williams, who turned 20 on Dec. 15, played and finished with six points in 13 minutes in the next game at Illinois … Senior forward Brandon Johnson returned from an ankle injury and had eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks at Illinois off the bench.
IOWA HAWKEYES (7-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Jordan Bohannon 6-1 175 Sr. 6.9
G – CJ Fredrick 6-3 195 So. 8.9
G – Joe Wieskamp 6-6 212 Jr. 16.0
G – Connor McCaffery 6-5 205 Jr. 3.6
C – Luka Garza 6-11 265 Sr. 28.4
Key reserves – Jack Nunge, F/C, 6-11, Jr., 9.5 ppg; Patrick McCaffery, F, 6-9, Fr., 7.0 ppg; Joe Toussaint, G, 6-1, So., 5.9 ppg; Keegan Murray, F, 6-8, Fr., 5.5 ppg;
Coach: Fran McCaffery 452-321 (23rd season)
Notable: The Hawkeyes suffered their first loss of the season, 99-88, to No. 1 Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, S.D. They responded in Tuesday's conference opener with a 70-55 win against Purdue. Iowa has the highest scoring offense (95.1 points per game) in the country, but its scoring defense (70.1) ranks 10th in the Big Ten. Iowa scored the last 11 points of the game after trailing by eight points with under six minutes to play in the three-point win at Minnesota in February … The Gophers and Hawkeyes have seven of their last eight meetings at Williams Arena decided by six points or fewer since 2012.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 6-2): Iowa 85, Gophers 78.