Reggie Lynch was tossing up three-pointers with a manager rebounding when Gophers coach Richard Pitino walked into Williams Arena before practice one Saturday morning in the fall.
“What are you doing?” Pitino yelled down to his 6-foot-10 starting center.
Lynch laughed. And he proceeded to take a few steps closer to the basket to practice his free throws.
Minnesota’s post players haven’t taken or made many three-pointers this year. Lynch has zero attempts. Backup center Bakary Konate is 0-for-1. Starting power forward Jordan Murphy is 4-for-25. Backup forward Eric Curry is 5-for-25.
“I would like coach to give me some freedom out at the three-point line,” Lynch joked Saturday. “I mean, obviously, I would just like to be proficient in the paint.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Michigan’s big men are nearly leading their team in three-point shooting. Starting posts Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson, both stand 6-10, shoot 32-for-76 (42.1 percent) and 25-for-65 (38.5 percent) from three-point range this season, respectively. Even backup center Mark Donnal is shooting 6-for-13 from deep.
“Just seeing they have (big) guys who have freedom to shoot threes on their team makes it a challenge,” Lynch said. “It’s just something we’ve got to hone in on, make sure we take their strengths away.”
Minnesota ranks first in the Big Ten and 10th nationally in three-point shooting defense (opponents shoot just 30 percent). Only South Carolina (28.1), Louisville (28.4) and Duke (29.8) have opponents shooting a lower percentage from long distance among major conference teams.
Michigan ranks third in the conference in three-point shooting percentage (.384) and second in three-pointers overall (243) and per game (9.3). So something has to give Sunday.
“They shoot the ball at five positions,” Pitino said of Michigan. “And when they’re hot, they’re really tough. So we’ve got to be as on point defensively as we can be.”
Konate, who started at center before Lynch was eligible this season, compared Michigan’s sharp-shooting big men to former Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, who is a 7-footer with deep range.
“My freshman year, Kaminsky was one of the examples who can shoot outside and inside,” Konate said. “I really enjoyed seeing how he played his game. I even started working more on my shooting.”
In Wednesday’s 75-74 win against Indiana, the Gophers faced 6-10 center Thomas Bryant, who is 20-for-51 from three-point this season. Bryant scored just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, including 0-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is probably the best three-point shooting post player in the Big Ten. He shoots 28-for-59 from three this season (47.5 percent). He had 28 points in a loss Jan. 1 against Minnesota, but he was 0-for-3 from long range.
If Lynch can’t shoot them, he wants to block them.
He has two blocked threes this season on Swanigan and Iowa guard Peter Jok.
“It’ll be a change of pace to be out on the perimeter to use some lateral quickness and defend those threes,” Lynch, Big Ten’s block leader, said. “I’m hoping to get another three-point block. So we’ll see.”
MORE BALANCE: Pitino was obviously pleased to get the victory Wednesday, but he said junior guard Nate Mason scoring 30 points on 8-for-19 shooting was "not a formula for success."
Mason, who had his second 30-point game this season, ended up taking more shots than usual since his fellow backcourt mates were either struggling or not shooting.
Akeem Springs hit the game-winning basket, but he had just four points on 2-for-13 shooting. Dupree McBrayer averages 11 points, but he had just two points on 0-for-4 field goals. Amir Coffey had a solid second half with 17 points, but he went scoreless in the first half.
"Akeem can't shoot like he did," Pitino said. "Dupree has got to play better. We cannot rely on Nate to score like that. We've got to have better balance."