Gophers men’s hoops vs. Loyola Marymount

FULLER’S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:

Frontcourt impact – Three of the Gophers’ top frontcourt players were limited with foul trouble in Wednesday’s 99-69 opening win against Wisconsin-Green Bay. Two of the most anticipated debuts were for transfers Liam Robbins (Drake) and Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan), but they weren’t able to get into rhythm offensively early and finished with four fouls. The 7-foot Robbins had 10 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes. Johnson had four points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes. They could be the starting frontcourt eventually, but Johnson came off the bench after being hampered with an ankle injury for the last few weeks. Redshirt senior Eric Curry got the start at power forward over Johnson, but the Gophers took it slow with him coming off a season-ending knee injury last year. The biggest surprise off the bench was junior Jarvis Omersa’s eight rebounds, five steals and three assists. Loyola Marymount will be an even bigger test Saturday with 7-foot-3 senior Mattias Markusson, who had 19 points in an opening win against Southern Utah.    

Carr’s encore – Marcus Carr’s season debut Wednesday was the most points for a U player in the opener since Jordan Murphy’s 35-point, 15-rebound effort against USC Upstate in 2017. It wasn’t long ago that Murphy was considered a national player of the year candidate when he started off his junior year with a breakout first game. Carr was among KenPom’s top 10 players in the country so far in the 2020-21 season after Wednesday, but what will the encore be for the junior point guard? The last Gophers player to score back-to-back 30-point games was current Los Angeles Clippers guard Amir Coffey, who did that during a breakout eight-game stretch to get the U into the NCAA tournament in 2018-19. Carr had his other 35-point game last season in an upset against Ohio State at the Barn.

Foul line fancy – The Gophers shot 24-for-30 from the free throw line in the opener, including the starters shooting 19-for-20 (starting guards were 17-for-17). That was an impressive start considering Richard Pitino’s team ranked 11th in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (67.7) last season. It wasn't necessarily that the Gophers were just horrid shooting from the foul line, but they often struggled to even get to the charity stripe, especially earlier in the season. In the five 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.

Rebound edge – Big Ten teams are typically supposed to be dominant against mid-major opponents on the boards, right? Pitino’s team had a significant height advantage against Green Bay in the opener (Robbins was six inches taller than the opposing center). But the rebounding margin was only plus-eight on the night (49-41), which got much closer in the second half when the Phoenix cut a 33-point deficit to just 10 points. LMU has the size with Markusson and four other starters 6-6 or taller to hold its own against Minnesota on the boards. Lions guard Eli Scott, a 6-6, 232-pound senior, led them in rebounding last season with 6.7 per game. He nearly had a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds Wednesday.

GAME INFO

Time: 5 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 15-point favorite. Series: Gophers won the only meeting in the series 93-67 on Jan. 3, 2005 at Williams Arena. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 100.3.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (1-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr. 35.0

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 17.0

G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 14.0

F – Eric Curry 6-9 240 Sr. 4.0

C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 10.0

Key reserves– Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 5.0 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.0 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 6.0 ppg; Brandon Johnson, F, 6-8, Sr., 4.0 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 146-122 (9th season overall)  

Notable: Eric Curry played his first game since the 2018-19 season in Wednesday’s season opener, finishing with four points, three rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. Curry 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 are available to play Saturday after being sidelined in the opener vs. Green Bay.

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT LIONS (1-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Joe Quintana 6-8 Jr. 8.0

G – Eli Scott 6-6 Sr. 11.0

F – Dameane Douglas 6-7 So. 16.0 

F – Ivan Alipiev 6-7 Jr. 0.0

C – Mattias Markusson 7-3 Sr. 19.0 

Key reserves – Keli Leaupepe, F, 6-6, So., 12.0 ppg; Jalin Anderson, G, 6-4, Fr., 12.0 ppg; Quentin Jackson, G, 6-2, Sr., 7.0 ppg.

Coach: Stan Johnson 1-0 (1st season)  

Notable: Senior Eli Scott played at Chino Hills High School with Onyeka Okongwu and the Ball brothers, LaMelo and Lonzo. LaMelo Ball was the No. 3 pick in this year’s NBA draft, while Okongwu was the No. 6 pick. Scott led the Lions in points, assists, rebounds, minutes and field goal percentage in 2019-20. Markusson sat out the 2019-20 season for personal reasons when his mother died in Sweden last year. He considered transferring this spring to the Gophers, Louisville and San Diego State before returning to LMU.

Fuller’s score prediction: Gophers 82, LMU 66.