GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS VS. JACKSONVILLE

FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:

Beware of Battle

Three years ago, Jamison Battle was overlooked playing for D-I Minnesota's top AAU team that featured five high major recruits, including three who eventually signed NBA contracts.

Battle wasn't recruited at all by the Gophers and eventually signed to play for George Washington.

After putting up big numbers in two seasons in the Atlantic 10, the 6-7, 225-pound former DeLaSalle standout transferred home to become first-year Gophers coach Ben Johnson's go-to guy.

"You don't need to put the cape on," Johnson told Battle about leading the team. "But just play your game."

In the first four games this season, Gophers' opponents have been slow to heed the warning signs to beware of Battle, who ranks first on the team and fifth in the Big Ten in scoring with 18.8 points per game, shooting 47% from the field and 35.5% from three-point range.

Only Iowa's Keegan Murray (25.5), Wisconsin's Johnny Davis (20.3), and North Carolina State's Dereon Seabron are scoring more as sophomores in high major basketball so far this season.

In the Big Ten, Murray leads the league in scoring and Davis isn't far behind in third. Although Minnesota's schedule isn't as tough as others, Battle's scoring average is higher than sophomore stars such as Purdue's Zach Eddy (17.2) and Jaden Ivey (15.6), and Michigan's Hunter Dickinson (16.0).

Battle's early offensive prowess isn't a huge surprise. His improvement defensively has been just as impressive on a team that hangs their hat on aggressive ball pressure.

"A lot of credit goes to him because he knew that was going to be the question mark at this level," Johnson said. "So he took [defense] as a challenge. Jamison is a competitive dude now. He doesn't want to be a weak link. He wants to have the total package, offensively and defensively."

Freshmen development

After being hired in the spring, Johnson inherited Richard Pitino's 2021 freshman recruiting class of 6-11 centers Treyton Thompson and Kenny Pohto.

Pohto, who was released from his letter of intent, is now playing meaningful minutes at Wichita State as a freshman off the bench (season-high 12 points in a win Sunday vs. UNLV).

Thompson, a former Alexandria, Minn., standout, decided to play for his home state, but he has only seen four minutes of action in one game.

The Gophers other scholarship freshman is junior college transfer guard Abdoulaye Thiam, who had four points in six minutes in last week's 78-49 win against Purdue Fort Wayne.

Thiam and Thompson made strides during the summer to get themselves ready to play. But Johnson said Tuesday that it has been difficult to play more than a seven-man rotation that consists of six seniors and sophomore Jamison Battle, the team's leading scorer.

"It is hard for freshmen to get meaningful minutes," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, with those younger guys it's always about trust. I don't care what sports you play. It's just developing the trust with the head coach. Unfair to them we have a bunch of veteran guys who have been playing five or six years. Or if you're Jamison you've played two years and you've played 30-plus minutes."

The Gophers rank 355 out of 358 Division I teams in bench minutes percentage (15.2), which is last among high major teams. Their rotation hasn't included the two freshmen or Division II graduate transfer Danny Ogele, who saw his first minutes this season against IPFW.

Seniors Sean Sutherlin and Charlie Daniels average a combined 31.3 minutes this season off the bench. They're the only two U reserves playing more than 4.3 minutes per game.

Post production

The Gophers will have a tough time holding their own this season against a loaded Big Ten in the post, including Purdue's 7-4 Eddy and 6-10 Trevion Williams, Illinois' 7-foot, 290-pound Kofi Cockburn, Michigan's 7-2 Dickinson, Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis, and Ohio State's E.J. Liddell.

Fortunately, the bulk of the Big Ten schedule doesn't start until January. But the Gophers have already been tested inside. Opponents have outscored them 150-114 in points in the paint in the first four games, including 56-44 against an undersized Princeton squad in Asheville.

Instead of calling it quits on an injury-plagued career, Curry is back and playing the best basketball since his freshman year. The 6-9 senior is averaging career-highs in points (7.5), rebounds (6.5), assists (1.5), blocks (1.5), steals (1.0), and minutes (27.3).

But the Gophers will need more paint production as the season progresses. Daniels, a Stephen F. Austin transfer, has been helpful defensively, but he's only 3-for-7 from the field in three games.

With 7-footer Liam Robbins transferring to Vanderbilt, the only player taller than 6-9 on the Gophers' roster is the 6-11 Thompson, who blocked the first shot of his career last week against Purdue Fort Wayne.

Three-point improvement

The Gophers shot a program-low 28.4% from three last season but were 46th nationally and second in the Big Ten with 25.2 attempts per game. They finished third in team history with 730 three-point attempts. That's a head-scratcher.

Former Gophers coach Richard Pitino thought he had a good shooting team but didn't have the numbers to back up that talk. Johnson actually does so far this season.

After hitting 11 threes in the exhibition win over Concordia-St. Paul, the Gophers have kept it going by shooting 37.6% from three this season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten.

Senior E.J. Stephens, who has two games with four threes in wins against Western Kentucky and IPFW, leads the Gophers with 52.9% shooting from beyond the arc.

Battle is the Gophers leader with 11 three-pointers, but he's also fourth in the league with 2.8 threes per game. Willis is shooting 41.7% from long distance (10-for-24) and fifth in the Big Ten with 2.5 threes per game.

The Gophers don't just shoot it better so far this season, but they're drastically improved guarding the arc. They rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense by holding opponents to 23.9%.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 14-point favorite. Series: Gophers lead series 2-0, including 52-50 win in the last meeting on Dec. 19, 1983. TV:Big Ten Network. Online/Live video:BTN-Plus.Radio: 100.3 KFAN

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (4-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 16.5

G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 12.5

G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 8.3

F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 18.8

F – Eric Curry 6-9 245 Sr. 7.5

Key reserves– Sean Sutherlin, G/F, 6-5, Sr., 10.3 ppg; Charlie Daniels, C/F, 6-9, Sr., 1.8 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 4-0 (1st season)

Notable:Sutherlin led the Gophers with 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field and seven rebounds in last Friday's victory against Purdue Fort Wayne. The New Brighton, Minn., native has scored the most points (44) combined in consecutive games off the bench since former Gophers guard Isaiah Washington during the 2017-18 season. Sutherlin leads the Gophers 22.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per 40 minutes … 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 make a full recovery by January when Big Ten play resumes. But the 6-8 former Division II All-American hasn't talked to the Gophers yet about possibly returning this season.

JACKSONVILLE DOLPHINS (2-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – George Pridgett 5-10 Fr. 6.3

G – Jordan Davis 6-3 Sr. 14.3

F – Tyreese Davis 6-6 So. 5.3

F – Osayi Osifo 6-8 Jr. 9.3

F – Mike Marsh 6-10 So. 8.0

Reserves– Bryce Workman, F, 6-7, Jr., 8.0 ppg; Tommy Bruner, G, 6-1, So., 7.3 ppg; Rod Brown, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.0 ppg; Gyasi Powell, G, 6-2, Fr., 2.0 ppg; Isaiah Broady, F, 6-7, Fr., 2.0 ppg.

Coach: Jordan Mincy 2-1 (1st season)

Notable:The Dolphins were picked to finish 10th in the ASUN Conference preseason poll under first-year coach Jordan Mincy, who spent six seasons as a Florida assistant. The 35-year-old Mincy's first loss came 63-54 last week against Central Florida, but he was named to college basketball's 40 under 40 list by Seth Davis. Jacksonville junior guard Kevion Nolan was named to the ASUN's preseason all-conference team after missing most of last season with a knee injury. But Nolan, who is out for tonight's game at Minnesota, hasn't played since scoring four points in 18 minutes in the season opener after reinjuring his leg. The Dolphins have been led by senior guard Jordan Davis in points (14.3), assists (2.7), and blocks (1.3) this season.

Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 3-1):Gophers 77, Jacksonville 63.