Nebraska at GOPHERS
Three things to watch:
SLOWING PALMER – Nebraska junior guard James Palmer Jr. is probably the hottest player in the Big Ten right now. The 6-foot-6 former Miami (Fla.) transfer is averaging 25.2 points in his last six games, which includes back-to-back 28-point performances in wins against Wisconsin and Iowa. Palmer also had 34 points on 11-for-18 shooting in a loss against Ohio State on Jan. 22. Palmer isn’t a lights out shooter just 34.6 percent (37-for-107) from three-point range. He does most of his damage slashing to the basket and finishing at the rim with his size and athleticism. The former top-100 recruit signed to play for the Hurricanes after finishing his high school career as the top prospect in Washington D.C. in 2014. The Gophers held Palmer to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting, including 1-for-5 from beyond the arc in their last meeting Dec. 5 in Lincoln. That was his second lowest scoring game in Big Ten play, but Minnesota won’t be able to use 6-8 sophomore Amir Coffey to defend Palmer. Coffey is expected to miss his third straight game with a right shoulder injury. Getting the assignment on Palmer will probably be 6-7 sophomore Michael Hurt.
JELLY ENCORE – Michigan wasn’t ready for this Jelly. The Wolverines seemed unprepared to stop Gophers freshman guard Isaiah Washington from attacking off the dribble and scoring with a variety of midrange pull-up jumpers and floaters. Washington’s season-high 26 points in Saturday’s 76-73 overtime loss in Ann Arbor, included him making 9-of-10 shots to start the game. Only one of those attempts came from the three-point line. When Washington takes better shots, he’s more efficient and tough to defend. He won Big Ten freshman of the week honors Monday, but what can we expect next from the New York player of the year? In the last meeting with Nebraska, Washington wasn’t much of a factor with just five points on 2-for-7 shooting in 17 minutes. He’s averaging 20 points and five assists in his last two games. Gophers coach Richard Pitino is giving his prize recruit more opportunity after Washington worked harder in practice. Washington should continue have a chance to make an impact in the backcourt the rest of the season.
ASSIST ME – The Gophers had only six assists on 28 field goals in 45 minutes Saturday at Michigan. That was tied for the fewest assists they had in a game all season (also in the Providence win on Nov. 13). There was an excessive amount of 1-on-1 basketball being played by Minnesota’s guards, especially Washington and senior point guard Nate Mason. Sure, Mason and Washington had the hot hand combining for 48 points, but they needed help from their teammates in the end. Moving the ball and getting more players involved in the offense gives Pitino’s team the best chance to win. Minnesota will be without two of its top scorers in Coffey and suspended center Reggie Lynch again. But the Gophers have enough offensive firepower to compete, especially if leading scorer (17.5) and rebounder (11.7) Jordan Murphy gets the ball in the post or in spots to go to work. Murphy had 12 points and six rebounds on 4-for-8 shooting against Michigan. Role players Michael Hurt and Davonte Fitzgerald have shown in the past couple games they’re not afraid to shoot the ball if left open as well.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Nebraska by 4. Series: Minnesota leads 51-16. Last meeting Nebraska won 78-68 in Lincoln on Dec. 5, 2017. TV: BTN Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-11, 3-9)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.7
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.0
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.9
F – Davonte Fitzgerald 6-8 Jr. 3.7
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.5
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.7 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 3.7 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.7 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-86 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers are shooting 40.4 percent (218-for-539) going 1-8 in games without suspended center Reggie Lynch, including 33.3 percent from three-point range (61-for-183) and 44.1 percent (157-for-356) on two-point field goals … Dupree McBrayer has scored just 13 points combined on 4-for-17 shooting from the field and 2-for-10 from the three-point line in his last two games. McBrayer has been hampered by a lower left leg injury … Minnesota has attempted the most free throws (574) of any Big Ten team this season and is shooting 70.6 percent ... The Gophers celebrate their 90th year with Williams Arena as their home court Tuesday night.
NEBRASKA (17-8, 8-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Glynn Watson Jr. 6-0 Jr. 11.0
G – James Palmer Jr. 6-6 Jr. 17.6
F – Evan Taylor 6-5 Sr. 6.8
F – Isaac Copeland 6-9 Jr. 13.2
F – Isaiah Roby 6-8 So. 7.3
Key reserves– Anton Gill, G, 6-3, Sr., 8.2 ppg; Jordy Tshimanga, C, 6-11, So., 3.8 ppg; Thomas Allen, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.7 ppg; Jack McVeigh, F, 6-8, Jr., 2.1 ppg; Duby Okeke, F, 6-8, Sr., 0.7 ppg; Tanner Borchardt, F, 6-8, Jr., 1.0 ppg.
Coach: Tim Miles 375-314 (23rd season)
Notable: The Cornhuskers haven’t won at Williams Arena since a 77-60 victory on Dec. 29, 2003. They have been 0-4 since then, including an 88-73 loss at the Barn last season …Nebraska’s 8-4 conference record is the best league start since it was in the Big 12 in 1999 … Junior guard Glynn Watson Jr. had a career-high 29 points in NU’s win against the Gophers on Dec. 5.
Fuller’s prediction (19-6 picks record): Nebraska 75, Gophers 71. The Gophers have had losing streaks of five games or more in each of the last four seasons under Pitino. Even when Minnesota reached the NCAA tournament and won 24 games last season it still dropped five in a row during Big Ten play. Something about this team makes losing contagious when the season starts to slide a bit. An eight-game winning streak followed the losing stretch a year ago to save the U’s NCAA tourney hopes. The Gophers would need to finish the regular season 6-0 to get to a respectable 9-9 in the Big Ten. That is obviously far-fetched considering Minnesota still has to play Michigan State and on the road against Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue. Winning tonight isn’t that out of the question. But like Pitino says, his team would have to almost play a perfect game.