GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT NEBRASKA
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
It is almost a given for Richard Pitino to talk after each game about wanting his players to shoot fewer three-pointers, but they don't seem to listen.
In Thursday's 67-59 loss against Northwestern, Pitino was frustrated that his team shot 4-for-27 from three-point range. Even for the Gophers that was more than their average of 25.2 threes attempted per game, ranking second in the Big Ten and 47th nationally. Relying so much on long-range jumpers is probably not the best idea for the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten and 326th in the nation (29.0%).
"We're still getting three-point happy too much," Pitino said. "We got to have guys drive the ball versus shoot so many threes. We keep talking about it, talking about it. Getting to the rim. So, they probably shot seven too many or eight too many."
Minnesota's best three-point shooter in accuracy is Marcus Carr at 32.9% this season, but he's shooting 10-for-39 (25.6%) in the last eight games. Not far behind Carr is 7-foot center Liam Robbins at 32.7%. The only other player in the main rotation shooting better than 30% from three is Tre' Williams (32.0%).
Carr (48), Gabe Kalscheur (27), Jamal Mashburn Jr. (19), Both Gach (18), Robbins (17) and Williams (16) are the team's leaders in threes made. As you can see after Carr and Kalscheur there is a drop off in the three-point production.
Forwards Brandon Johnson and Isaiah Ihnen could really benefit from scoring more in the paint. Johnson hit 8-for-9 three-pointers in one game this season, but he's shot 5-for-27 in the other 22 games. Ihnen also has half of his field goals made this season from three (10), so he hopes to be more effective scoring near the basket.
"If teams are giving it to us, we just need to get better at it and knock it down," Ihnen said. "We also have to get into the paint. Coach is stressing it. We just have to execute it."
The Gophers have lost four games since Robbins sprained his left ankle in the second half of the win vs. Purdue on Feb. 11.
Robbins, who will miss his second straight game Saturday at Nebraska, reaggravated the injury a week ago in the 94-63 loss against No. 5 Illinois. He also missed Thursday's loss against Northwestern.
The Drake transfer is averaging 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and a Big Ten-leading 2.7 blocks. Robbins combined for seven blocks in his last two games, but he clearly needed rest. He averaged just two points and three rebounds in three losses with foul trouble and limited minutes.
Pitino started 6-9, 240-pound redshirt senior Eric Curry, who had nine points and eight rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes Thursday against the Wildcats. Sophomore Sam Freeman (6-10, 240) also had two points and five rebounds in 10 minutes.
Only Nebraska ranks worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin than the Gophers (minus-3.9 to minus-3.4) this season. Minnesota won 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 overpowered on the glass 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 and Northwestern (minus-4).
During a three-game win streak, 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. Minnesota had success crashing the offensive boards, grabbing 16 vs. Rutgers and Nebraska, and then 13 vs. Purdue at home.
Robbins, who had his third double-double this season with 11 points and 10 rebounds vs. Purdue at home, leads the Gophers (6.6) in rebounding this 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. Now it has to be more of a team effort.
The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten overall (17.0) in free throws made per game overall, but that number has dropped to 14.1 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 in league games. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot 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, which included a three-game losing streak.
Carr, who shoots 80.4% from the foul line, ranks third in the Big Ten with 115 free throws made this season trailing only Iowa's Luka Garza (118) and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis (136). Carr is 29-for-31 from the foul line in his last eight games.
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena. Line: Minnesota 2.5-point favorite. Series: Gophers lead the series 54-20, including 79-61 win Feb. 8 at Williams Arena. TV:Big Ten Network. Online/Live video:BTN-PlusRadio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (13-11, 6-11)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 19.1
G – Jamal Mashburn Jr. 6-2 175 Fr. 7.4
G – Tre' Williams 6-5 195 So. 4.6
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 9.0
F – Eric Curry 6-9 240 Sr. 3.7
Reserves– Both Gach, G, 6-6, Jr., 7.0 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.4 ppg; Sam Freeman, C, 6-10, So., 1.1 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 158-133 (9th season overall)
Notable:That Gophers are the only team without a road win in the Big Ten at 0-8 this season. They have 10-game conference road losing streak dating back to last year's win at Northwestern. If Minnesota won tonight it would be for the first time in Lincoln, Neb. since 2012.Pitino's team only had one day of game preparation because the game was rescheduled from Jan. 20 … Carr had 21 points and seven assists in Thursday's loss to Northwestern, but he shot 5-for-17. In Big Ten play, Carr is averaging 16.5 points on just 36.5% and 13.1 points per game on 30.3% shooting on the road.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (5-17, 1-14)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Trey McGowens 6-4 191 Jr. 10.6
G – Teddy Allen 6-6 223 Jr. 17.2
G – Dalano Banton 6-9 204 Jr. 9.7
F – Derrick Walker 6-8 232 Jr. 4.7
F – Lat Mayten 6-9 205 Jr. 7.8
Key reserves– Shamiel Stevenson, F, 6-6, Jr., 4.9 ppg; Kobe Webster, G, 6-0, Sr., 7.0 ppg; Thorir Thorbjarnarson, G, 6-6, Sr., 3.3 ppg; Trevor Lakes, F, 6-7, Sr., 4.7 ppg.
Coach: Fred Hoiberg 127-98 (7th season)
Notable:The Huskers were winless in the Big Ten the last time they faced the Gophers in a 79-61 loss Feb. 8 at Williams Arena. Six days later, Nebraska won 62-61 at Penn State for what still is its only league win. That made Minnesota the only team without a road win in the Big Ten at 0-8 this season … Teddy Allen was sidelined for disciplinary reasons in the last meeting with the Gophers, but he leads the team with 17 points per game. Allen's career-high 41 points in an 86-83 loss vs. Penn State on Feb. 23 was the highest scoring game for a Big Ten player this season.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 15-9): Nebraska 74, Gophers 70.