GOPHERS at Michigan
Three things to watch:
REPLACING COFFEY – Gophers sophomore guard Amir Coffey will miss his seventh game and second straight with a right shoulder injury. Coffey, who tweaked his shoulder with a dunk in the Northwestern game Jan. 23 against Northwestern, is averaging 14 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game this season. The Gophers are 1-5 in games without the Hopkins native this season, but they did beat Penn State 95-84 in overtime Jan. 15 in State College. Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy combined for 71 points. But it was the surprise performance of freshman Jamir Harris that provided the spark with 10 of his season-high 16 points in overtime. Harris scored 10 points in his second start in a loss at Maryland, but he’s had just five points in the last three games combined off the bench. Freshman Isaiah Washington had his season-high with 15 points and seven assists off the bench in Tuesday’s 94-80 loss at Iowa. Sophomore Michael Hurt replaced Coffey in the starting lineup and scored seven points, including his first Big Ten three-pointer. Washington, Harris and Hurt likely will all play bigger roles Saturday and need to make an impact to make up for Coffey’s absence.
UNDERSIZED FRONTCOURT – It won’t be long before Gophers junior Jordan Murphy has the school single-season record for double-doubles. Right now that mark belongs to the program’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader Mychal Thompson. But Murphy’s 20 double-doubles this season is one shy of the U record. The 6-foot-7 forward’s 21 points and 17 rebounds Tuesday against Iowa weren’t enough to lead the Gophers to victory. Junior Davonte Fitzgerald had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks off the bench. Fitzgerald and Murphy in the frontcourt could be the answer to more offensive punch moving forward, but the undersized tandem has work to do on the defensive end. They both struggled to defend bigger posts and got into foul trouble, but the Gophers might be better off with them in the lineup together against Michigan. Wolverines center Moe Wagner is a tough matchup for Minnesota’s 6-11 center Bakary Konate being able to step out and knock down three-pointers.
THREE-POINT DEFENSE – The Gophers rank eighth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense (35.8 percent allowed) in league play, but opponents are shooting the third most threes against them (243). Sooner or later, if you play with fire, you get burned. That happened Tuesday with Iowa hitting 12-for-25 from beyond the arc. Michigan ranks sixth in the Big Ten in three-point percentage (37.6), but the Wolverines are tops in conference games with 258 three-point attempts and second behind Purdue in threes made (97 to 114). Wolverines freshman Isaiah Livers ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point percentage at 50 percent in 11 conference games.
Time: 1:30 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Crisler Center. Line: Michigan by 12. Series: Michigan leads 92-66. Last meeting Michigan won 84-77 in Big Ten tournament semifinal on March 11, 2017. TV: FOX Online/Live video: FOXTV Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-10, 3-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.4
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.2
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.9
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.7
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 6.9 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 3.9 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.7 ppg, Gaston Diedhiou, F, 6-10, Sr., 2.1 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-85 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers are shooting 39.9 percent (190-for-476) in the eight games without suspended center Reggie Lynch, including 33.9 percent from three-point range (56-for-165) and 43.0 percent (134-for-311) on two-point field goals … Nate Mason saw a four-game streak of double figure scoring games (averaged 18 points during that stretch) snapped in Tuesday’s loss at Iowa when he was held to just seven points on 2-for-13 shooting from the field, including 0-for-6 from long distance … Dupree McBrayer was held to just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting (1-for-5 from three) on Tuesday, but he only played eight minutes in the second half to rest a lower leg injury … Minnesota has attempted the most free throws (555) of any Big Ten team this season and is shooting 70.8 percent.
NO. 24 MICHIGAN (18-6, 7-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Zavier Simpson 6-0 So. 6.5
G – Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6-4 Sr. 11.1
G – Charles Matthews 6-6 Jr. 14.4
F – Isaiah Livers 6-7 Fr. 4.5
C – Moritz Wagner 6-11 Jr. 14.0
Key reserves– Duncan Robinson, F, 6-8, Sr., 8.6 ppg; Jordan Poole, G, 6-4, Fr., 4.5 ppg; Jon Teske, 7-1, So., 4.0 ppg; Ibi Watson, G, 6-5, So., 2.8 ppg; Eli Brooks, G, 6-0, Fr., 2.4 ppg. Jaaron Simmons, G, 6-1, Sr., 1.3 ppg.
Coach: John Beilein 784-459 (40th season)
Notable: The Wolverines are 12-1 at Crisler Center this season, which includes outscoring opponents by 16.9 points per game. Their only loss was 70-69 against Big Ten-leader Purdue on Jan. 9 … Michigan ranks 13th in the nation and tops in the Big Ten in scoring defense (63.1 points allowed) … Saturday’s game is expected to be the Wolverines’ second sellout this season and first in Big Ten play (capacity 12,707).
Fuller’s prediction (18-6 picks record): Michigan 71, Gophers 55. The Gophers found some spark off the bench in Tuesday’s loss at Iowa with Isaiah Washington and Davonte Fitzgerald combining to score 31 points, but they can’t afford to have starting guards Mason and McBrayer struggle in the same game. The veteran backcourt combined to shoot 4-for-21 from the field and 1-for-11 from three-point range. And that was against arguably the Big Ten’s worst defensive team. You could make a case Michigan has the league’s top defense. Missing Coffey will be too much to overcome in a fifth straight loss. The only bright spot from Saturday’s game might be Murphy tying Thompson’s double-double record with 21.