St. John’s at Gophers
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
New York state of mind – Dupree McBrayer downplayed the significance of playing a program he grew up watching. But the Queens, N.Y. native definitely circled this game on the calendar. McBrayer’s mother and aunt flew from New York to be in attendance Friday. Gophers assistant Kimani Young, also a Queens native and former St. John’s staffer, will likely have family tuning in on national television. Richard Pitino's top 2017 recruit, Isaiah Washington, is from the Bronx. So you know he's watching if he can. The New York connection is one of the reasons why this is such a big game for the Gophers.
Guard matchups – McBrayer called St. John’s freshman guard Shamorie Ponds his “little brother.” They exchanged text messages this week about the game. Their friendship will take a backseat once the Gophers and Red Storm step out on the court. McBrayer and Nate Mason are tied for the team lead in scoring (13.7). Freshman Amir Coffey is a 6-foot-8 guard who is off to an impressive start to his college career with 11.0 points per game. But St. John’s coach Chris Mullin has two freshmen of his own that make up a dynamic backcourt. Ponds averages 14.5 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds. Marcus LoVett averaged 21.0 points and 5.5 assists through two games.
Jordan Murphy’s consistency – After shooting 5-for-16 from the field in his first two games, Murphy bounced back with 18 points on 8-for-9 field goal shooting and 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s win against Mount St. Mary’s. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is still getting used to not being the main offensive option inside. Newcomers Reggie Lynch and Eric Curry are both more developed low-post scorers. But Murphy is one of the Big Ten’s best at crashing the offensive rebounds and finishing strong. Free throw shooting (2-for-7) needs to be more consistent as well. But Murphy showed in his last game why he has All-Big Ten potential.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by six points Series: Gophers lead 2-1; lost last meeting, 70-61, at Madison Square Garden in 2014. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN Plus, BTN2go app. Radio: 1500-AM.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 13.7
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 13.7
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 11.0
F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 11.7
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 R-Jr. 10.0
Key reserves – Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.0 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 9.0 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 54-51 (4 seasons)
Notable: The Gophers are much better defensively this season, but their offense is balanced as it has been under Pitino. All five starters score in double figures, led by Mason and McBrayer. Minnesota has a chance to score 80 points or more for the fourth straight game Friday, which hasn’t been done since 1992-93. Pitino’s team is shooting just 28.6 percent from three-point range. But the Gophers rank fifth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (49.6) and are plus-11 in rebounding margin.
ST. JOHN’S (2-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Marcus LoVett 6-0 R-Fr. 21.0
G-Shamorie Ponds 6-1 Fr. 14.5
G-Bashir Ahmed 6-7 Jr. 7.5
F-Tariq Owens 6-11 R-So. 7.0
C-Yankuba Sima 6-11 So. 9.5
Key reserves – Federico Mussini, G, 6-2, So., 12.5 ppg; Malik Ellison, G, 6-6, So., 7.0 ppg; Amar Alibegovic, F, 6-9, Jr., 2.0 ppg
Coach: Chris Mullin 10-24 (2 seasons)
Notable: The Red Storm played in the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games last season overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to beat Rutgers at Madison Square Garden. That gave them a 3-0 start, but they only won five of the next 29 games, including a 1-17 record in the Big East. … LoVett scored 39 points for Morgan Park High School (Ill.) in the Timberwolves Shootout against DeLaSalle in 2015.
Fuller’s prediction (3-0 record): Gophers 76, St. John’s 70. The Gophers are clearly a more talented team than last season, but they hadn’t played a major conference opponent until Friday. St. John’s isn’t exactly the most intimidating foe having matched Minnesota’s eight wins from last season. But Mullin has upgraded the talent on his roster, as well. Pitino believes winning the rebounding battle is one of the main keys to victory. But shutting down Red Storm guards LoVett and Ponds is what will be the determining factor. Mason, McBrayer, Coffey and Springs will lead the way to a 4-0 start.