Gophers men's hoops vs. UMKC
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Pitino's pace – Remember Richard Pitino's introductory press conference seven years ago when he talked about playing an up-tempo style of basketball? Well, for the most part Pitino's teams have not been able to push the pace consistently, especially in the grind-it-out and rugged Big Ten. But the Gophers appear to finally have the squad to run the way he initially intended. They rank No. 1 in the Big Ten and 20th nationally in possessions per game (80.4) this season. The only power conference program ahead of them is Georgia Tech (82.0). And Gonzaga (81.1) if you consider the Zags to be a high-major team like most people. Pitino's team ranked 235th in possessions per game last season (69.8) and 240th in 2018-19 (69.9). The average college hoops team gets 70 possessions per game, so the Gophers are definitely one of the most fast-paced scoring teams this year. Much of that is led by their backcourt of Marcus Carr and Both Gach. There probably aren't many guards in the country faster from end to end than Gach. And Carr is a one-man break himself at times pushing the ball up the floor to score in transition. UMKC is completely the opposite. At least, the stats say so. The Roos enter Thursday's game ranked 285th in possessions per game (67.5). They're also far behind the Gophers in adjusted tempo 319th compared to Minnesota's 63rd in the country, according to KenPom.com. We'll see if Pitino's backcourt can control the tempo from the outset, and make this another high-scoring game for the Gophers, who average 83.0 points (sixth in the Big Ten).
Replacing Brandon Johnson – The Gophers will be without senior forward Brandon Johnson on Thursday night after he suffered a left ankle injury at the end of Tuesday's 85-80 overtime win against Boston College. Johnson, who started the last three games, was averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.8 minutes a game this season. The Western Michigan transfer was a versatile and athletic presence for Pitino at power forward. Senior Eric Curry is likely to get the start, but he's much different playing style. The 6-9, 240-pound Curry is more of a physical post-up threat. Sophomore Isaiah Ihnen (6-9, 220) is similar to Johnson's size and length. He also has the ability to stretch the floor (39 percent career three-point shooter in 26 games). Ihnen scored six points and grabbed four rebounds in 24 minutes against Boston College off the bench. Curry was limited to two points in six minutes, but it will be interesting to see what the power forward rotation looks like Thursday. Johnson was in a walking boot before Thursday's game, but it's uncertain how soon he could return.
Carr's minutes – For the first time this season Tuesday, Carr played 40 minutes in a game after the Gophers needed overtime to come from behind 15 points in the second half to beat Boston College. The junior point guard is leading the Big Ten with 35.6 minutes per game this season. That's not much different from when he did the same with 36.8 minutes last season. Pitino hoped he could rest his floor leader more with the addition of freshman guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. Mashburn is coming off a season-high 10 points against Boston College, but he still only played 13 minutes. This could be the ideal game to give Carr the most time in the second half to watch his teammates from the bench. Mashburn could also benefit from getting the chance to build on his best performance so far. Of course, the Gophers have to pull away from their opponent to allow the bench to get more minutes. They've struggled with that the last several games.
Foul shooting fancy – The Gophers shot 23-for-33 from the free throw line in Tuesday's win against Boston College, including 19-for-27 in the second half and overtime. Pitino's team ranks third in the Big Ten and 18th nationally in free throws made per game (19.8). That's an impressive start considering Minnesota was just horrid getting points from the foul line last season ranking 285th nationally at 11.5 makes per game. In the five early losses in November and early December last year, the Gophers shot just 57.8 percent at the foul line, but they also scored only 9.6 points a game on free throws. So far, there seems to be a big difference at the charity stripe.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 17.5-point favorite. Series: Gophers lead the series 2-0 after winning the last meeting 76-58 on Nov. 13, 2015 at home. TV: FS1. Online/Live video: FoxSports. Radio: KTLK.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (5-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 25.6
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 9.2
G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 15.6
F – Eric Curry 6-9 240 Sr. 4.0
C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 9.6
Key reserves– Tre' Williams, G, 6-5, So., 3.8 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 4.0 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.4 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-6, Jr., 2.4 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 150-122 (9th season overall)
Notable: Curry played his first game since the 2018-19 season in the Nov. 25 season opener, finishing with four points, three rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. Curry, who started the first two games, bounced back from his second major knee injury after missing last season following a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in preseason practice. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native is the last remaining player from the U's first NCAA tournament team under Pitino in 2017 … Sophomore guard Tre' Williams and freshman guard David Mutaf were sidelined in the opener vs. Green Bay. But Williams has played in every game since then. Mutaf has not made his debut this season.
MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY ROOS (2-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Zion Williams 6-4 193 Sr. 8.5
G – Brandon McKissic 6-3 195 Sr. 15.3
G – Franck Kamgain 6-2 195 Jr. 9.5
F – Marvin Nesbitt Jr. 6-4 180 Sr. 13.0
F – Josiah Allick 6-8 225 So. 14.5
Key reserves – Hidde Roessink, C, 6-10, So., 10.0 ppg; Jacob Johnson, G, 6-5, Fr., 7.3 ppg; Kaimen Lennox, G, 6-2, Fr., 5.3 ppg; Paxton Payne, G, 6-2, Fr., 4.5 ppg; Tyre Boykin, G, 6-1, Fr., 4.0 ppg.
Coach: Billy Donlon Jr. 127-110 (8th season)
Notable: Donlon guided last season's UMKC team to its best winning percentage (.533) since the 2010-11 season and most wins since 2016-17 after finishing with a 16-14 record. The Roos hired Donlon last year after he had two Big Ten assistant coaching stints at Michigan (2016-17) and Northwestern (2017-19). Donlon's first head coaching job was at Wright State (2010-16), which included him winning Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2013 (10-win improvement overall). Johnson, a Brooklyn Park, Minn. native, averaged 17.5 points and five rebounds his senior season at Champlin Park in 2019. He redshirted last season for the Roos.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 4-1): Gophers 86, UMKC 69.