The Gophers have one of the tallest teams in the country with an average height of over 6-foot-6 and their starting lineup averages 6-foot-8.

That size has helped Ben Johnson's team outscore most opponents in the paint this season, with the exception of DePaul and UNLV, the two teams to beat the Gophers (4-2) entering Monday's Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Virginia Tech (5-1).

The Gophers are averaging 27.7 points in the paint this season, but they were outscored 24-18 in the paint in last Wednesday's 71-62 loss against UNLV in the SoCal Challenge Championship in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

The Hokies, who escaped with a 69-64 win Friday against Charleston Southern at home, have scored at least 40 points in the paint in three straight games, including 40-24 in a Nov. 18 victory against Penn State.

The return of All-Big Ten preseason junior Jamison Battle from a foot injury helps the Gophers become even stronger at forward. The 6-7 Battle led the team with 14 points and six rebounds in two games in California.

Dawson Garcia, who leads the team with 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, scored the game-winning basket a week ago in a 62-61 overtime victory against Cal Baptist. On the same night, freshman Pharrel Payne's 15 points and 13 rebounds topped both categories.

How Johnson utilizes Battle, the 6-11 Garcia and 6-9 Payne to the U's advantage on Monday night could be the deciding factor.

Virginia Tech senior Justyn Mutts is an undersized big man at 6-7 and 220 pounds, but the All-ACC preseason pick ranks fifth the ACC in rebounds per game (9.2) and fifth in field goal percentage (58.8).

Mutts and Hokies 6-9 senior Grant Basile combined for 27 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in the win against Penn State. They're averaging 26.9 points and 14.2 rebounds combined this season.


Time: 6 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. Line: Gophers 12.5-point underdogs. Series: Second meeting in program history, including the Gophers 58-55 victory in 2011 at Williams Arena. TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: Watch ESPN. Radio: KFAN 100.3-FM



Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Ta'Lon Cooper 6-4 195 Jr. 11.7

G – Jaden Henley 6-7 200 Fr. 8.0

G – Jamison Battle 6-7 220 Jr. 14.0

F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 230 So. 15.8

C – Treyton Thompson 7-0 210 So. 3.0

Key reserves – Pharrel Payne, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 8.0 ppg; Braeden Carrington, G, 6-4, Fr., 8.8 ppg; Joshua Ola-Joseph, F, 6-7, Fr., 5.5 ppg; Taurus Samuels, G, 6-1, Sr., 2.0 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 17-19 career (2nd season)

Notable: The Gophers got last season's leading scorer and rebounder Jamison Battle back into the starting lineup against Cal Baptist and UNLV last week in California. Battle, who missed the first four games to recover from foot surgery, led the team with 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. Battle had 11 points on just 4-for-15 shooting in his season debut, but he led the Gophers with 17 points and nine rebounds vs. UNLV. … Freshman forward Kadyn Betts will redshirt the 2022-23 season after reclassifying and joining the team early this year. Betts will play with a highly touted 2023 class that was signed Nov. 9 with four-star Illinois guard Cameron Christie and five-star California center Dennis Evans III … Freshman guard Braeden Carrington, who won Minnesota Mr. Basketball and a state title last season at Park Center, made his season debut Nov. 14 vs. DePaul after missing two games with an ankle sprain. Carrington had 15 points and eight rebounds in his last game.


Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Sean Pedulla 6-1 195 So. 17.1

G – Hunter Cattoor 6-3 200 Sr. 10.3

G – Darius Maddox 6-5 180 Jr. 11.3

F – Justyn Mutts 6-7 220 Sr. 12.0

F – Grant Basile 6-9 235 Sr. 14.9

Reserves – Lynn Kidd, C, 6-10, Jr., 5.4 ppg; Myljael Poteat, F, 6-9, Jr., 4.1 ppg; MJ Collins, G, 6-4, Fr., 3.6 ppg.

Coach: Mike Young 359-281 (21st season)

Notable: Sophomore guard Sean Pedulla once had the Gophers and Oklahoma State among his final three schools before committing to Virginia Tech in the 2021 class. The Oklahoma native has been one of the most improved players in the ACC, going from 5.4 points as a freshman to a team-best 17.1 points this season. … The Hokies pulled off an impressive win against Penn State on Nov. 18, but they turned around and suffered their first loss of the season in the Charleston Classic championship against host Charleston 77-75. They almost made it back-to-back losses to mid major programs in the same city, but they escaped Charleston Southern last Friday. Senior forward Justyn Mutts led his team with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists in that victory.

Fuller's score prediction: Virginia Tech 75, Gophers 66.