Minnesota (6-19; 0-13) vs. No. 6 Maryland (22-4; 10-3) at Williams Arena
Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
The spread: Minnesota +9.5
*Coach Richard Pitino announced that he had dismissed senior captain Carlos Morris from the team on Wednesday. Click.
*Previewing Maryland at Minnesota. Click.
*On the blog: Dorsey will likely benefit from a bigger role with Morris off the team. Click.
Three things to watch as the Gophers take on their second top-10 team in as many games:
Maryland announced on Monday that it was suspending freshman center Diamond Stone for one game after he slammed an opponent's head into the court in the Terrapins' game against Wisconsin on Saturday -- continuing Minnesota's luck in facing yet another opponent without a key player (note: the Gophers have not yet made good on that luck yet). Anytime a team loses its second-leading scorer (Stone is averaging 12.8 points per game), it's going to make an impact, especially if that player also happens to be a future NBA player. Good thing for Maryland, it has plenty of talent and size even without Stone in the fold -- 6-11 backup center Damonte Dodd finished with 12 rebounds against Minnesota last season -- more than enough to dispense the woeful Gophers.
"Maryland is the most talented team top to bottom, I would say, in our league," coach Richard Pitino said on Wednesday. "I think they've got five NBA players ...their starting five, with Stone in it, is full of NBA players. They play hard, they're well coached ...They've got a lot of fire power. So it's a tough task for us."
But here's the thing: Maryland hasn't exactly had an easy time putting away opponents this season, even much less talented ones. Those struggles were on display in Saturday's game against the Badgers, a 70-57 loss. The Gophers are a much worse team than Wisconsin, but they've proven scrappy, losing six of their last seven by six points or fewer, putting the onus on Maryland coming out strong.
Two days ago, the Gophers lost one of their two senior captains after coach Richard Pitino kicked Carlos Morris (aka Squirrel) off the team. In late February, just a couple weeks before the end of the season and his eligibility, that's a pretty dramatic happenstance. There are rotation issues to consider -- Minnesota now has just one natural shooting guard on the roster and only nine scholarship players -- but there's also the fact that Morris was a friend and veteran on a team full of youth.
Given the struggles this year has already brought, it seems natural that the emotional departure could sink the players' spirits even more. How will the remaining bunch respond to Morris' absence? Someone probably needs to step up and get the team back on track.
Make no mistake: Maryland's Melo Trimble can hurt the Gophers in many ways. The sophomore guard can break knees with his drive to the basket, distribute the ball in highlight-reel ways, hit his free throws and defend.
But one of the other aspects that makes Trimble special -- his deep shot -- just hasn't been the same lately.
In the last ten games, Trimble has connected on just 13 of 52 attempts from three-point range, good for just 25 percent from distance. That effort was compiled on Saturday, when the guard finished 1-for-14 from the field, the worst performance of his otherwise special career.
Facing the Gophers, though, might just be the nudge that Trimble needs to break out. Minnesota has the tendency to forget about shooters beyond the arc, even great ones, as they showed against Michigan two games ago, when the Wolverines drilled 14.
But if Minnesota sophomore Nate Mason has any say, Trimble will stay "off" for at least another game.
"I've been thinking about it all week," Mason said of the matchup. "It's just extra motivation, just to get in the gym more, more late-night shooting, extra dribbling, just trying to out-do him for the game."
8 -- the number of consecutive opponents, including Maryland, that were coming off a loss heading into the matchup with Minnesota (thanks to 1500-a.m. for this stat).
2 -- losses to go before the Gophers match the program's longest losing streak (16), set in 1986-87.
3 -- Maryland's rank in "average height" nationally, according to KenPom.com.
2 -- Big Ten teams Pitino hasn't beaten yet -- Maryland and Michigan.
3 -- consecutive games in which Minnesota has shot 73 percent or better from the free-throw line after three consecutive games in which the Gophers shot worse than 59 percent.
30 -- years of service from public announcer Dick Jonckowski, who will be honored at halftime of tonight's game.
Maryland 79, Minnesota 72