Minnesota tips off vs. South Dakota at 2 p.m. Watch the game on BTN-Plus (subscription service) or listen live on 1500-a.m.
Check out my story on how Jordan Murphy landed in Minnesota, here.
Previewing both teams, here.
Three things to watch:
Going small. Last time out, Richard Pitino experimented with the Gophers’ undersized lineup, with Jordan Murphy and Joey King in the lineup together and centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou on the bench. Despite that Clemson boasted a lot more size than Minnesota, the move worked. Freshman forward Jordan Murphy provided an inside presence, senior forward Joey King struck from the perimeter and the guards’ effective press helped the interior defense from being overwhelmed. Coach Richard Pitino has sounded hesitant to use that lineup against big Power Five frontcourts, but the early success might have opened him up to the idea, particularly with Konate still somewhat out of shape after missing a month with a foot injury, and Diedhiou largely inconsistent. "It was effective, but there are going games where it’s not going to be effective, and you have to look at other things," Pitino said. "Bakary didn’t play very much but I thought he was very impactful in just getting Landry into foul trouble, just by his size alone. His development is very important to what we’re trying to do too, so I think you’ve got to look at all options." In any case, the Gophers will have another challenge to contend with 6-5 Tre Burnette, who is averaging 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. His 6.86 defensive rebounds per game rank 35th nationally.
Murphy continuity. After a career night in which Murphy shook off any hesitancy and took control, can the freshman continue the surge? It’s not realistic, of course, to expect Murphy to have a breakout game like that every game, but some confidence after a good performance – and an egoless player learning he can produce big results – is a good thing. At times we’ve seen Murphy just sort of “float,” as Pitino has called it, not forcing the action or looking for his own shot. Some of that, I think, is Murphy trying to play within the system. But now that he sees the positive reaction to him being a little more aggressive, perhaps he’ll decide to take on a bigger offensive role.
Hot offense/ growing defense. It’s not too much of a surprise that a team as young and inexperienced as this one is still trying to figure itself defensively. Pitino hasn’t yet trusted the pressure defense enough to use it habitually, as the Gophers did in each of his last two seasons, although it looked pretty good toward the end of the win over Clemson on Monday. The perimeter defense has been porous at best. And while the half-court defense has certainly had its moments, there are stretches when the Gophers look unable to stop teams from driving to the basket and finishing, a concern that has been amplified with foul trouble. But where the Gophers have mostly thrived, perhaps at times surprisingly so, is on the offensive end. After converting 49.2 percent and 52.7 percent of its shots in the last two games, Minnesota sits at 39th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per analyst Ken Pomeroy. The Gophers’ strong three-point shooting (37.8 percent), ability to get to the line (.43 times per every field goal), free-throw shooting (75 percent) and relatively low turnover rate (11 per game) have all contributed.