GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS VS. WISCONSIN GREEN BAY. (4 p.m. BTN)
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Another Ryan vs. the Gophers
Minnesota fans surely have no love lost for former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who dominated the Gophers during his storied career with the Badgers.
His son, Will, assures that his father won't be in attendance Wednesday when Green Bay plays at Williams Arena for the second straight season. Bo is enjoying his retirement in California.
It's been nearly 20 years since Green Bay's head coach was on his Hall of Fame dad's staff with the Badgers, and first-year coach Ben Johnson also played for the Gophers.
Ryan, 43, and Johnson, 40, are now running their own college programs. And Johnson has the respect of his peers as a head coach with a 9-1 start this season at his alma mater.
"I watched some early games to see what they were all about," Ryan said. "These guys have a lot of experience under their belt from their different schools they played at. Now they've gelled together in a Gophers uniform. I think they've got a chance to finish pretty high in the Big Ten if they continue to play the way they're playing right now."
Will Ryan remembers a funny story when Johnson was a player in the Border Battle in Madison in 2004. Ryan was a Badgers graduate assistant and Johnson was a Gophers senior guard when there was a moment "I'll never forget," the younger Ryan said.
In his only season playing for Minnesota, then-freshman star Kris Humphries threw down a thunderous dunk and ran toward the Wisconsin bench shouting a "few choice words."
"He came close to our sideline," Ryan said. "But my dad is standing there. Ben was close as well, and my dad said, 'Ben you get him under control [about Humphries].' It was funny because I didn't know my dad knew Ben on a first-name basis."
Point guard proven
The Gophers lost one of the top point guards in the country when Marcus Carr transferred to Texas, but their offense is still in good hands with Payton Willis.
Willis and Carr were teammates in 2019-20 after both sitting out transferring from Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh, respectively. But the ball was given to Carr, forcing Willis to play more of a sidekick role at off guard.
Now the 6-4 senior from Fayetteville, Ark., is making the most of his chance to run the show. He leads the Big Ten in three-point percentage (45.3), but also averages 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists this season.
"He's growing in that position every day," Johnson said. "The cool part is how good can be become? That's like our whole team is we can still get better. I know he's not satisfied."
The big difference with Willis this time around with the Gophers is him being more in "attack mode" than settling for jump shots. He already has more free throws made and attempted in 10 games (16-for-27) than he did in 27 games (12-for-16) his last stint in Minnesota.
"He has a good handle on being able to get his and also set guys up," Johnson said. "Being able to make the right play when it's needed, kind of that dagger play. To me that's attack mode. Knowing when to go for the kill."
The Gophers have arguably the most experienced backcourt in the Big Ten, so it was odd to see them uber-careless with the ball with a season-high 28 turnovers in last week's 79-71 win vs. Texas A&M-Corpus-Christi.
It was the most turnovers for the Gophers since they had 28 in a loss at Purdue in 2007-08.
Fifth-year seniors Willis, Luke Loewe and E.J. Stephens have played in 352 games combined in their career. They have been in almost every situation. There's a reason why the Gophers are among the nation's best in taking care of the ball.
So what happened with that backcourt trio combining for nine turnovers? Senior guard Sean Sutherlin alone also had a team-high seven turnovers on the night off the bench.
"It was very uncharacteristic of us," Stephens said. "In the past recent games we hadn't had more than five turnovers combined. It's just something we've been focusing on in practice and we'll get better from it."
The Gophers had the second most turnovers that game for a power conference team this season (behind only Pitt's 31 vs. West Virginia). But they still rank 20th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in fewest turnovers (10.2) per game.
Corpus Christi ranks second in the country in turnovers forced (20.8), so the Gophers won't face an opponent as disruptive Wednesday. Green Bay ranks 320th in the nation with only 10.7 turnovers forced per game.
Johnson was forced to go deeper into his bench than he had all season in the Dec. 5 win at Mississippi State.
Sutherlin, the team's sixth-man, was out with a knee injury. Senior forward Danny Ogele missed the trip with a non-COVID related illness.
So the Gophers played freshman guard Abdoulaye Thiam and walk-on sophomore forward Will Ramberg meaningful time in the first half.
Sutherlin has been back for the last three games, so the Gophers have gone back to shortening their bench. They rank 357th among all 358 Division I teams in bench minutes percentage (14.5), per Kenpom.com.
Starters Battle (37.4), Willis (36.0) and Stephens (34.7) are all among the top four Big Ten leaders in minutes played. Battle leads the entire conference, while Loewe (33.7) is eighth.
Sutherlin and Daniels, among the six seniors in the rotation, average a combined 30.7 minutes off the bench. But Daniels has played double digit minutes just twice in the last six games.
The Gophers finally played freshman Treyton Thompson, who scored his first career point against Corpus Christi. Thompson, who is now listed at 7-feet, didn't see action for four straight games, but he played six minutes in the first half last week.
Time: 4 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 17-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads the series 2-0 after the 99-69 win in Nov. 25, 2020 at the Barn. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN-Plus. Radio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (9-1)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 16.5
G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 11.4
G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 8.0
F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 18.5
F – Eric Curry 6-9 245 Sr. 7.8
Key reserves– Sean Sutherlin, G/F, 6-5, Sr., 8.2 ppg; Charlie Daniels, C/F, 6-9, Sr., 1.4 ppg.
Coach: Ben Johnson 9-1 (1st season)
Notable: Sutherlin returned from missing one game with a knee injury to play in last week's Big Ten opening 75-67 loss against Michigan State. Sutherlin has been an offensive spark off the bench this year. His best performance was leading the Gophers with 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in the Nov. 19 win against Purdue Fort Wayne. The New Brighton, Minn., native scored the most points (44) combined in consecutive games off the bench since former Gophers guard Isaiah Washington during the 2017-18 season … Junior forwards Parker Fox (Northern State transfer) and Isaiah Ihnen are sidelined indefinitely after offseason knee surgery. Fox, who tore his ACL and MCL in late March, could possibly be cleared to play by January. But it still appears that both Fox and Ihnen will sit out this season.
Wisconsin Green Bay Phoenix (2-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Kamari McGee 6-4 Fr. 8.2
G – Emmanuel Ansong 6-4 Jr. 12.6
G – Donovan Ivory 6-6 So. 10.6
F – Japannah Kellogg 6-8 Fr. 6.8
F – Cade Meyer 6-8 Fr. 4.9
Reserves – Randy Tucker, G, 6-4, So., 3.1; Cem Kirciman, F, 6-8, Fr., 3.4, Mitch Listau, G, 6-4, 2.8 ppg; Ryan Claflin, F, 6-6, Fr., 2.3 ppg, Nate Jenkins, G, 6-2, So., 2.0 ppg.
Coach: Will Ryan 24-38 (3rd season)
Notable: Will Ryan's father was honored before a 72-34 loss against the Badgers on Nov. 12. The Phoenix played their second power conference foe on Dec. 12 in an 82-64 loss at Kansas State. Redshirt freshman forward Japannah Kellogg III played for D1 Minnesota's AAU program with current Gophers forward Jamison Battle. The 6-8 Kellogg, brother of former Gophers women's player Kionna Kellogg, had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds against Kansas State. ... Freshman guard Lucas Stieber, who averages 5.0 points, is out with an injury.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 7-3): Gophers 82, Green Bay 66.