Gophers vs. Vanderbilt in Sioux Falls
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
FRONTCOURT TOUGHNESS – The Gophers were physically dominated in their first loss of the season Monday at Florida State. It wasn’t just that center Reggie Lynch, the team's biggest player, was outweighed by 40 pounds in the paint. Minnesota lacked toughness across the board in the frontcourt, including Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry. That can’t happen Saturday night against a Vanderbilt team more comfortable playing a finesse game. Lynch (260 pounds), Murphy (240) and Curry (235) aren’t used to being pushed around like they were Monday. Time for them to do some bullying of their own.
DEFENDING THE ARC – The Commodores enter Saturday’s game with 25 three-pointers made in their last two games, which helped them bounce back from a 10-point loss to Butler on Nov. 24. They are shooting 41 percent from three-point range with 66 three-point field goals this year, both leading the Southeastern Conference. Minnesota ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense with opponents being held to 28.2 percent. St. John’s (11) and Texas-Arlington (10) are the only two opponents to make double-digit three-pointers against Minnesota this season.
MURPHY’S MOTOR – Can Jordan Murphy get back on track? The sophomore captain has scored just 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field in his last two games, including being held without a field goal on Monday for the first time since his third college game last year. Murphy is an undersized power forward at 6-foot-7. But he has enough athleticism, strength and length to be a dominant rebounder and finisher. Murphy has tried to play more away from the basket this season. But he can prove to be one of the top forwards in the Big Ten again, if he sticks to what he does best.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Sanford Pentagon. Line: Gophers by 3 points Series: Leads 4-0; Minnesota won last meeting, 72-59, in 1959 at Memorial Gym in Nashville. TV: None. Online/Live video: ESPN3. Radio: 1500-AM.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 12.7
G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 11.4
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 14.6
F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 10.1
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.8
Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 7.7 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 7.3 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 3.0 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.6 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 58-51 (4 seasons)
Notable: The Gophers are playing at the Sanford Pentagon for the second straight season. They lost to Oklahoma State 62-60 last year. It was the end of a three-game losing streak that had South Dakota connections. Minnesota lost to South Dakota and South Dakota State at home before falling to the Cowboys in Sioux Falls, S.D. last year. A good sign this season: Pitino didn’t schedule any games against the Coyotes or the Jackrabbits.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Riley LaChance 6-2 Jr. 10.3
G-Payton Willis 6-4 Fr. 6.9
F-Matthew Fisher-Davis 6-5 Jr. 15.3
F-Jeff Roberson 6-6 Jr. 10.6
C-Luke Kornet 7-1 Sr. 14.6
Key reserves – Nolan Cressler, G, 6-4, Sr., 5.6 ppg; Joe Toye, G/F, 6-7, So., 4.4 ppg; Djery Baptiste, C, 6-10, R-Fr., 4.0 ppg; Clevon Brown, F, 6-8, Fr., 2.4 ppg
Coach: Bryce Drew 128-52 (six seasons)
Notable: Junior guard Riley LaChance, a Brookfield, Wis. native, is shooting 18-for-26 from beyond the arc this season (69.2 percent), which leads the SEC. LaChance received a scholarship offer from Pitino at Brookfield Central High School. He scheduled an official visit to Minnesota’s campus in 2013. The former four-star recruit also made visits to Iowa and Michigan State.
Fuller’s prediction (7-0 record): Gophers 76, Vanderbilt 72. The Gophers suffered their first loss of the season, but it could’ve been a lot worse. They faced a 19-point deficit in the second half in Tallahassee before cutting it to a single-digit margin late in the game. That should help Minnesota’s players bring some confidence into Saturday’s matchup against another major conference foe. Freshman Amir Coffey will learn how to stay out of foul trouble after it took him out of his last game. Murphy breaks out of a brief slump to get the Gophers back on the winning track.