GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT INDIANA HOOSIERS
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Sean Sutherlin is basically a sixth starter for the Gophers, who only play a seven-man rotation this season.
So having the 6-5 senior guard back healthy today against Indiana could go a long way to helping them respond from Tuesday's 76-53 loss against Illinois at home.
Sutherlin, who averages 8.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and shoots 53% from the field, sat the second half of the Illinois loss to rest an ankle injury.
Not surprisingly without their top spark off the bench, the Gophers couldn't stay competitive in the second half against the Illini, only managing to score 23 points on 29% shooting from the field.
"He's doing good and attacking rehab," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said. "I know Sean wants to play. He's doing everything he can to get his body and that ankle ready to play."
The Gophers rank last among all 358 Division I teams in bench minutes percentage (14.5), per Kenpom.com.
Sutherlin and Daniels, among the six seniors in the rotation, average a combined 31.1 minutes off the bench. But Daniels has scored more than one field goal just once in 11 games this season.
Sutherlin missed one game this season with a knee injury. The New Brighton, Minn., native's 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. Sutherlin scored the most points (44) combined in consecutive games off the bench since former Gophers guard Isaiah Washington during the 2017-18 season.
The Gophers were the worst team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.6) last season. This isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu led the Big Ten in rebounding for three straight seasons from 2017-20.
Not only have the Gophers the last two years used a post-production-by-committee approach, but they've done the same thing with rebounding out of necessity.
In Johnson's first season, the Gophers are 13th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-5.6) and last in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (16.5), per Kenpom.
The U's philosophy now is to hustle back for transition defense and not to crash the offensive boards, so that skews the offensive rebounding numbers (league-worst 5.7 per game).
In Big Ten play, the rebounding margin between the Gophers and their first three opponents has been rather significant at a conference-worst minus-15.7. The Illini won the battle of the boards 52-26 on Tuesday.
"We've got to get back to being the offense we are and take better shots," Johnson said. "When we're shooting it. And that limits rebounds. I think the last game is kind of anomaly. We've got to get back to who we are as far as the numbers."
And it won't get any easier for the Gophers on Sunday with the Hoosiers, who rank fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (plus-8.4). Standout junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis is coming off a 27-point, 12-rebound, five-block performance against Ohio State. But the Hoosiers combined to outrebound the Buckeyes 41-33 with a combined 23 rebounds from starting forwards Jackson-Davis, Minnesota native Race Thompson, and Miller Kopp.
Three and D
Last season, the Gophers shot a program-low 28.4% from three last season, but they've made a jump to 35.5% this season through 12 games. They're even better at three-point defense holding opponents to 25.8% shooting, which ranks fifth in Division I and first in the Big Ten.
In the Dec. 11 upset in Ann Arbor, the Gophers held the Wolverines to 3-for-18 shooting from beyond the arc. But their next two Big Ten opponents, Michigan State and Illinois shot 16-for-35 combined (45.7%).
On the opposite end, the Gophers shot just 9-for-38 from beyond the arc in their two losses, so that is a disturbing trend that obviously can't continue if they want to get back on the winning end in conference play.
Don't expect Indiana to be shooting a bunch from three-point territory. The Hoosiers make only 6.4 threes per game, ranking 12th in the Big Ten. But they're fourth in the league and 42nd nationally in three-point defense (opponents shoot just 29.6%).
Free throw factor
The Gophers aren't helping themselves much in Big Ten play when it comes to the foul line. Johnson's team ranks last in conference games shooting just 63.2% on free throws (24-for-38) in three games.
That's a small sample size to judge too much, but Minnesota's 6-for-13 shooting at the line in Tuesday's loss against Illinois really was concerning. The Gophers also were outshot at the charity stripe in their first loss of the season. Michigan State went 15-for-19, while the Gophers were just 7-for-9.
It helped that some of the U's nonconference opponents don't average many free throws made, including Princeton (8.6), Jacksonville (9.6), UMKC (9.9).
But the Big Ten is a physical league where the teams that are able to rely less on jump shots and draw the most fouls at the basket often find themselves with an advantage.
Indiana's opponents have the second highest free throw percentage (75.5) in the Big Ten overall, followed by the Gophers (72.8).
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Assembly Hall Arena. Line: Indiana 11.5-point favorite. Series: Indiana leads the series 98-67 after the 82-72 win on Feb. 17, 2021, in Bloomington. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN-plus. Radio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (10-2, 1-2 conference)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 15.7
G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 10.7
G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 7.6
F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 18.2
F – Eric Curry 6-9 245 Sr. 8.3
Key reserves– Sean Sutherlin, G/F, 6-5, Sr., 8.0 ppg; Charlie Daniels, C/F, 6-9, Sr., 1.6 ppg.
Coach: Ben Johnson 10-2 (1st season)
Notable: Senior Eric Curry had his fifth double figure scoring game this season Tuesday with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting with five rebounds. Curry, who had three major injuries, has been playing the best basketball of his career, also having his first double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds on Dec. 22 against Wisconsin-Green Bay. 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 in the Big Ten season. But it still appears that both Fox and Ihnen will sit out this season.
INDIANA HOOSIERS (11-3, 2-2 conference)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Parker Stewart 6-5 210 Sr. 7.1
G – Xavier Johnson 6-3 200 Sr. 9.4
G – Miller Kopp 6-7 215 Jr. 7.4
F – Race Thompson 6-8 228 Sr. 10.8
F – Trayce Jackson-Davis 6-9 245 Jr. 19.9
Reserves – Rob Phinisee, G, 6-2, Sr., 4.5 ppg; Trey Galloway, F, 6-6, So., 4.3 ppg; Michael Durr, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.2 ppg; Jordan Geronimo, G, 6-6, So., 4.5 ppg; Tamar Bates, G, 6-5, Fr., 5.3 ppg.
Coach: Mike Woodson 11-3 (1st season)
Notable: The Hoosiers are coming off an impressive 67-51 victory Thursday over No. 13 Ohio State. They are 11-0 at home this season and 0-3 on the road, including losses at Wisconsin and Penn State. Indiana has won six in a row in Bloomington, Ind., against the Gophers since 2012. Sophomore G Trey Galloway returned after missing 10 games with a broken wrist injury. Galloway had eight points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals off the bench against Ohio State. Indiana ranks first in the Big Ten and second nationally in field goal percentage defense (35.1) and first in the conference in scoring defense (60.8 points per game).
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 8-3): Indiana 78, Gophers 68.