FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Marcus Carr's last game?
When the Gophers opened the 2020 Big Ten tournament with a 74-57 win against Northwestern in Indianapolis, it wasn't supposed to be sophomore All-American center Daniel Oturu's last college game.
It turned out to be the case, though, after the pandemic shutdown cancelled his rematch with Iowa's Luka Garza in the second round.
Oturu declared early for the draft soon after. He's now in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers. Junior standout point guard Marcus Carr has similar pro basketball aspirations after going through the early entry process last year, but he wouldn't discuss that decision yet.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Carr said Tuesday. "I'll just talk about it with my family once the season is over and everything is really done. Right now, my only focus is the Big Ten tournament."
Carr, who ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring (19.6) and assists (4.9), was named All-Big Ten second team by media and third team by coaches this week. He had the highest scoring game in the conference this season with a career-high 41 points in the loss at Nebraska. He's also been completely shutdown with just seven points on 1-for-13 shooting in the regular season finale vs. Rutgers at home.
Freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. and sophomore Tre' Williams have tried to replace the production of injured guards Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger) and Both Gach (foot) in the backcourt.
But the Gophers can't advance in the Big Ten tournament tonight without Carr playing at a high level again, which probably would boost his draft stock.Whether or not it's his last game (and possibly his coach Richard Pitino's) with the Gophers might be up to him.
Carr became the first two-time All-Big Ten guard for the Gophers since Vincent Grier in 2005 and 2006, but he would trade individual accolades for more wins this year.
"It's definitely an honor and I'm very appreciative of it," he said. "It's definitely a couple milestones for my career, but I'd rather be in a different position [seeded] in the Big Ten."
With center Liam Robbins' ankle sprain sidelining him again tonight, Pitino will look to seniors Brandon Johnson and Eric Curry to give the Gophers a frontcourt presence vs. Northwestern.
The 6-9, 240-pound Curry's capable of stretching the floor with his outside shot and rebounding. But Johnson is actually the best scoring option in the post without Robbins.
The 6-8, 220-pound Western Michigan graduate transfer proved that with 19 points and 11 rebounds on Senior Day in Saturday's loss to Rutgers. After being hobbled by a lingering ankle injury in last week's 19-point loss at Penn State, Johnson was an inside force against the physical Scarlet Knights.
"By all means I'm going to give 110% effort on both ends to pick up the slack for what [Robbins] usually does," Johnson said. "I'll try to do what I do and what he does. Just to make our team get a 'W'. I feel like Northwestern is a very winnable game."
The Gophers are the worst team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.6), but that wasn't always the case this season.
Minnesota got after it on the glass to win the battle of the boards for three straight games vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State earlier in the season. But that wasn't enough to overcome being outrebounded by Illinois twice (minus-18 and minus-10), Iowa twice (minus-17 and minus-6), Michigan twice (minus-9 and minus-4), Maryland (minus-8), Purdue (minus-17) on the road, Northwestern (minus-4), Nebraska (minus-2) and Penn State (minus-7).
During a three-game win streak in December, the Gophers made strides holding their own on the boards. They were barely outrebounded by Rutgers and Purdue (both minus-two), two of the most physical teams in the Big Ten in January. They grabbed 16 offensive boards vs. Rutgers in the first meeting and vs. Nebraska at home. And they followed that up with 13 offensive rebounds in their victory vs. Purdue at home.
Robbins, who had his third double-double this season with 11 points and 10 rebounds vs. Purdue at home, led the Gophers (6.6) in rebounding during the regular season. But this isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Daniel Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounding. They were good for 10-12 rebounds every night. It had to be more of a team effort this year.
The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in free throws made per game overall (17.0), but that number dropped to 14.5 free throws made in Big Ten games. This season is still a major upgrade from last year when they ranked 285thnationally with 11.5 foul shots made per game. They're getting to the line nearly twice as often and converting 75 percent, ranked fourth in the Big Ten. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot there has been detrimental. They were 5-14 when outshot by their opponent on free throws last season. They're 3-8 in the same situation this season.
Carr, who shoots 81% from the foul line, ranked second in the Big Ten with 145 free throws made this season. Carr is 59-for-66 from the foul line (89.3%) in his last 11 games.
Time: 5:30 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Line: Northwestern 1.0-point favorite. Series: Gophers lead the series 99-69, including 67-59 loss Feb. 25, 2021 at Williams Arena. TV:BTN. Online/Live video:BTNPlusRadio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (13-14)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 19.6
G – Jamal Mashburn Jr. 6-2 175 Fr. 7.7
G – Tre' Williams 6-5 195 So. 5.2
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 9.1
F – Eric Curry 6-9 240 Sr. 3.8
Reserves– Both Gach, G, 6-6, Jr., 6.8 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.9 ppg; Sam Freeman, C, 6-10, So., 0.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 158-136 (9th season overall)
Notable:That Gophers finished as the only team without a road win in the Big Ten at 0-10 this season. They have a 12-game conference road losing streak dating back to last year's win at Northwestern … Curry, Johnson and walk-on Hunt Conroy were honored last weekend on Senior Day at Williams Arena. Conroy and Curry are likely to pursue graduate assistant coaching roles after this season. Johnson has hinted he would strongly consider the NCAA's option for athletes during the pandemic to return for an extra year of eligibility.
NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (9-14)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Boo Buie 6-2 180 So. 10.5
G – Chase Audige 6-4 200 So. 12.6
G – Miller Kopp 6-7 215 Jr. 11.3
F – Pete Nance 6-10 225 Jr. 11.3
C – Ryan Young 6-10 245 So. 7.9
Key reserves– Ty Berry, G, 6-3, Fr., 5.3 ppg; Ryan Greer, G, 6-2, Jr., 2.8 ppg; Anthony Gaines, G, 6-4, Jr., 3.9 ppg; Robbie Beran, F, 6-9, So., 5.7 ppg.
Coach: Chris Collins 118-133 (8th season)
Notable: The Wildcats snapped their 13-game losing streak in the Feb. 25 victory at the Barn. That sparked Northwestern's three-game win streak to finish the regular season, which included wins over Maryland and Nebraska. Northwestern guard Boo Buie had 25 points on 12-for-12 free throws earlier this season vs. the Gophers. The Gophers led 31-25 at halftime in the last meeting, but they were outscored by Chris Collins' team 42-24 in the second half.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 18-9):Northwestern 71, Gophers 68.