Sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer might be the obvious choice for most improved player on the Gophers basketball team this year.
But junior captain Nate Mason isn’t far behind.
And they both showed off that progress from last season during Wednesday night’s 76-66 win against LIU-Brooklyn.
McBrayer, who had a career high 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, has seen his scoring and shooting percentages rise significantly from a year ago. His scoring average is up nearly six points from 5.9 to 12.1 this season. His field goal percentage (32.6 to 48.5) and three-point percentage (25.0 to 40 percent) make him seem like a totally different player confidence-wise.
McBrayer’s previous career high was 18 points against St. John’s and Georgia Southern this year.
But there was a point last season when McBrayer on scouting reports was known as Minnesota’s worst shooter – by far. He shot 2-for-25 from three-point range in his first 14 games. But he made strides going 10-for-22 from beyond the arc in his last 10 games as a freshman.
McBrayer, a crafty 6-foot-5 New York native, also went from one double figure scoring performance in his first 20 games last year, to reaching double digits four times in his last seven games in 2015-16.
“It’s a process,” he said Wednesday. “You can’t skip greatness. That was Step 1; getting adjusted. Step 2 is putting in the work and putting in the time – and the results will come.”
Mason’s putting up about the same scoring numbers, averaging around 13 points per game this year. He continues to be one of the best guards in the Big Ten at assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-2.7). But he’s improved his accuracy greatly from three-point range (30.2 last season to 45.3). Mason's also becoming a lock down defender.
“End of last year, we just put in both of our minds that we were going to come back better players than ever,” Mason said of he and McBrayer. “It’s good to see both us excelling, and just seeing the work pay off.”
CURRY TIME: Eric Curry stepped up his game with his roommate, Amir Coffey, sidelined with an injury Wednesday night. The 6-foot-9 freshman big man broke a six-game drought scoring under double figures with 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting, to go with eight rebounds in 25 minutes.
Curry also drilled his first career three-pointer, after entering the game missing both attempts this year.
Pitino said the talented Memphis native as the green light to shoot it from deep despite sometimes playing center in a smaller lineup. He has a nice shooting stroke, making 79.4 percent of his free throws before Wednesday.
“I’ve always been excited about him,” Pitino said. “He really rebounds the ball well. Gotta get him a little bit more confident from a low post standpoint. But he can shoot the ball. Him making that three is not a surprise.”
SHARING THE ROCK: The Gophers finished with 20 assists or more for the second time in the last three games. They had a season-high 23 assists last week in a 86-49 win against Georgia Southern. Pitino’s team shared the ball well again Wednesday with 20 assists on 29 baskets. Minnesota has 60 assists combined in the last three games.
BLOCK KING: No matter how much he gets limited in foul trouble, Reggie Lynch always seems to find a way to make his presence felt defensively in the paint. He extended his streak of three blocks or more to five straight games Wednesday. He only scored two points on 1-for-3 shooting, but Lynch had three blocks in 12 minutes. That gives him 21 blocks in the last five games.
Lynch has at least one block in 28 straight games, dating back to his sophomore season at Illinois State in 2014-15.