GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT INDIANA
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
How healthy are the Gophers?
This probably would've been a good time for Richard Pitino and his Gophers to have a bye week with so many players banged up and dealing with nagging injuries.
They don't call it the dog days of February for nothing. No team is fully healthy, but Pitino is going into the final stretch run of Big Ten play without several Gophers at full strength.
Prior to Wednesday's pregame warmups at Indiana, the Gophers announced starting junior guard Gabe Kalscheur is out indefinitely with a hand injury suffered in practice. Having to replace Kalscheur is a significant loss as a scorer and the team's best perimeter defender.
Minnesota's center Liam Robbins is expected to play Wednesday, but it's uncertain how much impact he can have after spraining his ankle last week.
In Sunday's 72-59 loss at Maryland, the U's starting frontcourt of Robbins and Brandon Johnson combined for just seven points on 1-for-12 shooting and seven fouls. It was by far their worst performance not only combined but individually in the Big Ten, but they were both far from 100% healthy.
The 7-foot Robbins sprained his ankle Feb. 11 in the home win vs. Purdue, but he toughed it out in the second half. Johnson hurt his ankle earlier in the season, but a recent finger injury has been wrapped up for several games. The 6-8 senior didn't seem bothered much going through a four-game stretch scoring in double figures, but he was limited against Maryland.
The Gophers need Robbins or Johnson to give them an inside scoring presence against the Hoosiers to match a potential big night from Indiana's star big man Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Expect senior backup center Eric Curry and sophomore Isaiah Ihnen to also get a chance to provide a boost off the bench. Ihnen had a career-high 12 points, to go with seven rebounds and two blocks against the Terrapins.
Junior guard Both Gach, who is averaging nearly eight points per game, has been bothered by a foot injury recently. But Gach getting healthy is critical with the timing of Kalscheur's return uncertain.
Pitino has enough depth in the backcourt to look at other scoring options. Sophomore Tre' Williams, who replaced Gach in the starting lineup two weeks ago, is coming off a season-high 10 points vs. Maryland. Freshman guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. also led the Gophers with a career-high 14 points last Sunday.
Minnesota native's impact
Indiana junior forward Race Thompson wasn't shy about admitting there would be a little something extra there for him Wednesday night playing his home state Gophers.
The 6-foot-8 former Robbinsdale Armstrong standout was offered a scholarship by Pitino in the 2017 recruiting class. He's the son of the Gophers' all-time leading rusher Darrell Thompson. His brother, True, also played wide receiver for the Gophers.
"This one definitely means a little more to me," Thompson said. "Growing up 20 minutes from the University of Minnesota. Being recruited by them. Dad went there. Brother went there. This one definitely means a little more to me."
Thompson said he put in work last summer to improve offensively. And it shows with him producing a career-high 9.9 points on 53% shooting, to go with 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Embracing his sidekick role in Indiana's starting frontcourt, Thompson's chemistry with Jackson-Davis has benefitted the All-American candidate. The 6-9 sophomore is averaging 19.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this season.
"I'm the type of person who tries to make players the best players they can be," Thompson said. "I'm a pretty unselfish player."
The Gophers and last-place Nebraska are the worst teams in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-2.7). Minnesota won the battle of the boards for three straight games vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State earlier in the season. But that wasn't enough to overcome being overpowered on the glass by Illinois (minus-18), Iowa twice (minus-17 and minus-6), Michigan twice (minus-9 and minus-4), Maryland (minus-8) and Purdue (minus-17) on the road.
During a recent three-game win streak, the Gophers made strides holding their own on the boards. They were barely outrebounded by Rutgers and Purdue (both minus-two), two of the most physical teams in the Big Ten. Minnesota had success crashing the offensive boards, grabbing 16 vs. Rutgers and Nebraska, and then 13 vs. Purdue at home.
Robbins, who had his third double-double this season with 11 points and 10 rebounds vs. Purdue at home, leads the Gophers (7.1) in rebounding this season. But this isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Daniel Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounding. They were good for 10-12 rebounds every night. Now it has to be more of a team effort.
The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten overall (17.5) in free throws made per game overall, but that number has dropped to 14.3 free throws made in Big Ten games. This season is still a major upgrade from last year when they ranked 285thnationally with 11.5 foul shots made per game. They're getting to the line nearly twice as often and converting 75.5 percent, ranked fourth in the Big Ten in league games. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot has been detrimental. They were 5-14 when outshot by their opponent on free throws last season. They're 3-6 in the same situation this season, which included a recent three-game losing streak.
Marcus Carr, who shoots 78.6% from the foul line, ranks third in the Big Ten with 99 free throws made this season trailing only Iowa's Luka Garza (104) and Jackson-Davis (109). Carr attacking the basket and getting to the foul line more often is critical to Minnesota's offense.
Time:8 p.m. CT, Wednesday.Where:Assembly Hall.Line:Minnesota 6.5-point underdog.Series:Indiana leads the series 103-69, including 68-56 at Williams Arena last season.TV: Big Ten Network.Online/Live video: BTNPlusRadio:100.3 KFAN
MINNESOTA GOPHERS(13-8, 6-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr.19.4
G – Jamal Mashburn Jr. 6-2 185 Fr. 6.1
G – Tre' Williams 6-5 195 So. 3.6
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 8.7
C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 12.6
Key reserves– Both Gach, G, 6-6, Jr., 7.8 ppg; Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, Sr., 3.7 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.4 ppg.
Coach:Richard Pitino 158-130 (9th season overall)
Notable: Senior forward Brandon Johnson had a season-high 26 points on 8-for-9 shooting from three in the overtime win vs. Iowa on Christmas Day. The Gophers were 17-for-43 from three, setting a team record for attempts from beyond the arc. Johnson's three-point percentage in that game was a team record and he tied the single-game record for threes made. The Chicago native is shooting 33% from three this season, but he hasn't been able to come close to duplicating that one record-setting performance. He shot 2-for-11 on threes in the seven games before Iowa. Johnson's shot 1-for-14 from long distance since Dec. 25. The Gophers shot 27-for-68 (39.7%) from three in back-to-back wins vs. St. Louis and Iowa, but they have shot 29.4% from deep this season, last in the Big Ten and 318th nationally.
INDIANA HOOSIERS (11-9, 6-7)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Alijami Durham 6-4 185 Sr. 11.2
G – Armaan Franklin 6-4 195 So. 12.2
G – Robert Phinisee 6-1 187 Jr. 7.3
F – Trayce Jackson-Davis 6-9 245 So. 19.6
F – Race Thompson 6-8 228 Jr. 9.9
Key reserves– Anthony Leal, G, 6-5, Fr., 1.9 ppg; Trey Galloway, G, 6-4, Fr., 4.1 ppg; Jordan Geronimo, F, 6-6, Fr., 2.2 ppg; Jerome Hunter, F, 6-7, So., 5.6 ppg; Kristian Lander, G, 6-2, Fr., 2.1 ppg.
Coach: Archie Miller 206-115 (10th season)
Notable: The Hoosiers secured the season sweep over top-10 Iowa in their last home game after a 15-footer from Armaan Franklin with 1.8 seconds left in the 67-65 win on Feb. 7 … Jackson-Davis is the only Indiana player in the last 25 years to have three games of 25 points and 15 rebounds in his career. His last in the Big Ten was a 27-point, 16-rebound game in a 68-56 win at Minnesota last season.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 12-9):Indiana 75, Gophers 69.