GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS VS. IOWA
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
The Gophers announced two assistant coaches and four players (Eric Curry, Sean Sutherlin, Danny Ogele and Joey Kern) out for Sunday's game against Iowa due to either illness, COVID-19 health and safety protocols or injury, per release.
Gophers coach Ben Johnson and assistant Marcus Jenkins will be available and at least seven scholarship players, which is enough to compete under Big Ten rules.
Sutherlin, is the top bench scorer for the Gophers (7.7 ppg), but the center position is where Johnson could afford an absence the least this season.
Curry's out Sunday afternoon against Iowa with a left ankle injury. The 6-9 captain was hurt late in Wednesday's 71-69 last-second loss at Michigan State.
Curry's career-high averages of 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 28.3 minutes per game doesn't tell the whole story of his importance. He was the U's only returning player, an emotional and inspirational leader, and the program's lone inside presence.
"EC's a big piece, but everybody has to step up a little bit," Johnson said of Curry, who had a career-high 19 points against the Spartans.
The next man up is senior Charlie Daniels, who averages just 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10.6 minutes. That is the biggest drop off in the Big Ten with frontcourt production off the bench, but Daniels should have an opportunity to showcase he's capable of doing more.
"Last game CD was pretty good," Johnson said. "He does a lot of stuff that doesn't necessarily show up on the box score. Defensively, he's pretty good, strong, physical. He can defend in the post. He knows our offense and how we want to play, although he's different from Eric. Here's an opportunity if Eric can't go, he's going to be able to step up and play an additional 5-10 minutes."
In Big Ten play, Daniels has only averaged 8.4 minutes in five games, but he still put up 11.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, so it will be interesting so see what he can do with more playing time.
Daniels, a Stephen F. Austin transfer, had four starts in his Division I career, including three with the Lumberjacks last year. And the Florida native started 27 games as a sophomore at Indian River State junior college in 2018-19.
The Gophers having Curry as their man in the middle wasn't the initial plan for Johnson. He recruited centers in the transfer portal, including Iowa's starter and North Dakota transfer Filip Rebraca, who picked the Hawkeyes over Minnesota.
Former Gophers starting 7-footer Liam Robbins transferred to Vanderbilt, but Curry started the last six games last year when Robbins was out with a foot injury before announcing his retirement after a career plagued with injuries.
With the Gophers not having success in the portal finding another big man to fill the void, Curry saw a need to delay being a graduate assistant.
But Johnson now has to rely more on Daniels and possibly 7-foot freshman named Treyton Thompson, who has been waiting for a chance to show he can contribute as well.
Old AAU teammates bond
Sophomores Jamison Battle and Patrick McCaffery stopped being teammates four years ago when their summer ended with D1 Minnesota's AAU program, but their friendship continues today.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes will meet Sunday in a border rivalry game, but don't expect any bad blood between Battle and McCaffery. Sure, they'll be competitive in this matchup, but they support each other off the court.
"I was on the phone with him earlier this week," said McCaffery, the son of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. "We didn't talk about our matchup, but we talked more about the league and how he's making his adjustments and all that kind of stuff."
Battle, a Minnesota native, and McCaffery, who grew up in Iowa City, played on one of the top AAU teams in the country in 2018 when they were with D1 Minnesota's 17U team, which included Zeke Nnaji (Denver Nuggets), Tyrell Terry (New York Knicks G League), Matthew Hurt (Memphis Grizzlies G League), Tyler Wahl (Wisconsin), and Robert Jones (Iowa State).
"We all got a long really well," McCaffery said. "Jamison has a really warm personality. He's really fun to be around. He's kind of a goof ball. We just kind of bonded through that. He's just a cool dude. So we continued to talk when we got to college. I talked to him a lot when he was at GW."
McCaffery even said the Hawkeyes were interested once Battle entered the transfer portal, but Battle picked the home state Gophers over Miami (Fla.). And the decision proved to be the right one with him averaging a team-best 17.9 points per game. McCaffery's improved this season as well, averaging 10.7 points and 3.4 rebounds for Iowa.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to play against him," McCaffery said.
The Gophers were the worst team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-3.6) last season – and they're close to the same spot in Johnson's first year.
Curry was the U's leading rebounder, but even with him they ranked 13th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-5.2) and last in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (17.8), per Kenpom.
Johnson's philosophy is to give up crashing the offensive boards to hustle back for transition defense, so that can skew the offensive rebounding numbers (league-worst 6.2 per game).
In Big Ten play, the rebounding margin between the Gophers and their first four opponents had been a second to last at minus-13.0. Only Iowa (minus-11.6) and Nebraska (minus-11.9) are struggling more in league games.
In Michigan State's 75-67 win against the Gophers on Dec. 8 at Williams Arena, the Spartans won the rebounding battle 44-29, but it was much closer at 33-32. Minnesota even had the offensive rebounding edge 12-6.
Defense was the key to Johnson's early success this season, especially guarding the three-point line.
The Gophers are still ranked first in the Big Ten in three-point shooting defense at 27.7%, but there has been a big different in opponent's shooting from beyond the arc against league opponents.
In the Dec. 11 upset in Ann Arbor, the Gophers held the Wolverines to 3-for-18 three-point shooting. But Michigan State twice, Illinois, and Indiana shot 42.5% (31-for-73) from beyond the arc.
They'll also have to shoot better than 26.3% (26-for-99) in conference play overall from three, which is even worse than last season (27.9%) in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes rank fifth overall in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (35.4) and sixth in three-point defense (32.3). Senior guard Jordan Bohannon, who is a career 39.9% three-point shooter, is the Big Ten's all-time leader in threes with 400 and counting.
Time: 1 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Iowa 5.5-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads the series 102-91 but dropped last game 86-71 in Iowa City on Jan. 10, 2021. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN-plus. Radio: 100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (10-4, 1-4 in conference)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Payton Willis 6-4 195 Sr. 15.8
G – E.J. Stephens 6-3 190 Sr. 11.3
G – Luke Loewe 6-4 190 Sr. 6.6
F – Jamison Battle 6-7 225 So. 17.9
F – Charlie Daniels 6-9 230 Sr. 1.7
Key reserves– Treyton Thompson, C, 7-0, Fr., 0.7 ppg; Laye Thiam, G, 6-3, Fr., 1.1 ppg.
Coach: Ben Johnson 10-4 (1st season)
Notable: Following a Dec. 11 victory at Michigan, first-year coach Ben Johnson has watched his team drop games against Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State, including 71-69 Wednesday on a last-second shot by Joey Hauser in East Lansing. They have won three of the past four games in the series against the Gophers but fell 102-95 on Christmas last season at Williams Arena. … Junior forwards Parker Fox (Northern State transfer) and Isaiah Ihnen are sidelined indefinitely after offseason knee surgery. Fox, who tore his ACL and MCL in late March, has been warming up before games. But it still appears that both Fox and Ihnen will sit out this season.
IOWA HAWKEYES (12-4, 2-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Joe Toussaint 6-0 190 Jr. 5.3
G – Jordan Bohannon 6-1 175 Sr. 10.8
F – Patrick McCaffery 6-9 200 So. 10.7
F – Keegan Murray 6-8 225 So. 23.9
F – Filip Rebraca 6-9 230 Sr. 5.8
Reserves – Tony Perkins, G, 6-4, So., 7.8 ppg; Kris Murray, F, 6-8, So., 10.7 ppg; Payton Sandfort, F, 6-7, Fr., 5.4 ppg; Ahron Ulis, G, 6-3, So., 4.2 ppg; Connor McCaffery, G, 6-5, Sr., 1.4 ppg; Josh Ogundele, C, 6-11, So., 1.4 ppg.
Coach: Fran McCaffery 479-333 (26th season)
Notable: The Hawkeyes had three consecutive losses last month, but they bounced back to win four of the past five games, including 83-74 Thursday over Indiana at home. Sophomore Keegan Murray leads the nation in scoring with 23.9 points per game, but his twin brother, Kris, was the player of the game Thursday. Kris Murray averages 10.7 points, but he exploded with a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds against the Hoosiers.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record: 10-4): Iowa 80, Gophers 74.