GOPHERS vs. MIAMI (FLA.)
Three things to watch:
MASON VS. THE WORLD – For the second straight game, the Gophers’ backcourt will face a big test against an opponent that is considered better and more talented. First it was Alabama’s Collin Sexton and John Petty, who are potential NBA draft picks. On Wednesday night, Miami (Fla.) has a pair of its own top pro prospects with Bruce Brown Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV. Minnesota’s senior captain Nate Mason rose to the challenge against Sexton on Saturday, outplaying with him 20 points, including 11 during a six-minute stretch in the second half. But Mason got too emotional and was ejected with two technical fouls for talking trash. Mason loves to take on all challengers with his me-against-the-world mentality. That swagger he plays with makes him arguably the best guard in the Big Ten. But he also can’t put his team in a bind being thrown out of the game or taking bad shots just to prove he can play with anybody. The All-Big Ten floor leader has been great this season picking when to call his number scoring and get teammates involved. Miami’s senior point guard Ja’Quan Newton will be tasked to shut down Mason, so that will be something to watch. Brown vs. Gophers sophomore Amir Coffey is another intriguing matchup.
REBOUNDING MARGIN – Not many teams have kept the Gophers from crashing the boards this year. They average 43.7 rebounds per game, which ranks second in the Big Ten. A lot of that comes from having the league’s top rebounder in Jordan Murphy (12.3 per game). But Reggie Lynch is also a double-double threat with 8.3 rebounds per game. Coffey’s size on the wing at 6-8 helps him clean up on the glass as well at 4.6. Mason is solid rebounder (4.3) at the guard spot and for his height at 6-2. The Hurricane rank sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding offense at 41.0. The 6-foot-5 Brown, who has two 11-rebound games this year, is one of the top rebounding guards in the country with a team-high 8.3 average.
MURPHY’S OWN LAW – The Gophers haven’t seen much go wrong yet for Jordan Murphy, who is having an All-American type start to the season. He’s leading the Big Ten with 22 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. This would be the absolute worse time for him to struggle against Minnesota’s first ranked opponent at home Wednesday night against No. 10 Miami. But Murphy makes it easier on himself not trying to force the issue offensively each game. He usually gets going by pounding the boards to score off putbacks and dunks cutting to the basket. Sometimes Lynch will even get the ball thrown to him in the post first to establish an inside presence. Murphy’s improved his range and ball-handling to become even harder to guard. Good luck keeping him from extending to his double-double streak, which stands at seven in a row. The last Big Ten player to start the season with seven double-doubles was former Iowa big man Reggie Evans, who played for more than a decade in the NBA. If Murphy gets a shot at the next level, it will be as an enforcer and rugged rebounder like Evans.
Time: 8:15 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota by 5 points. Series: Tied 1-1. Minnesota won last meeting 78-60 on March 19, 2012 in the second round of the NIT at Miami. TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: ESPNapp Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 13.7
G – Isaiah Washington 6-1 Fr. 8.1
G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 12.4
F – Jordan Murphy 6-6 Jr. 22.0
C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 11.3
Key reserves– Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 4.1 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.1 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 5.3 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 100-75 (6th season)
Notable: Lost in the bizarre 3-on-5 game Saturday against Alabama was Pitino reaching his 100th career victory as a college basketball coach. He is one of only five active coaches to reach that century mark in wins in only six seasons or sooner. His career record as Minnesota’s coach is 82-61 in five seasons. Pitino started his career at Florida International going 18-14 in his only season in 2012-13. FIU played its home games at U.S. Century Bank Arena and Miami played at Watsco Center only 10 miles apart. Pitino never played against the Hurricane in his one season in South Beach. But his FIU coaching staff, which included current Gophers assistant Kimani Young did meet up with Jim Larranaga’s staff a few times to talk coaching.
Miami Fla. (5-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Ja’Quan Newton 6-3 Sr. 11.6
G – DJ Vasiljevic 6-3 So. 9.6
G – Bruce Brown Jr. 6-5 So. 9.8
F – Anthony Lawrence II 6-7 Jr. 9.0
C – Dewan Huell 6-11 So. 13.4
Key reserves– Lonnie Walker IV, G, 6-5, Fr., 7.0 ppg; Chris Lykes, G, 5-7, Fr., 6.8 ppg; Ebuka Izundu, C, 6-10, Jr., 7.6 ppg; Sam Waardenburg, F, 6-10, Fr., 8.0 ppg; Rodney Miller, C, 7-0, So., 1.5 ppg
Coach: Jim Larranaga 614-403 (34th season)
Notable: Larranaga turned over documents to the FBI after he was believed to be “Coach-3” in a Department of Justice report that a program tried to funnel money to a top 2018 recruit, according to the Palm Beach Post. He and his legal team claim that he did nothing wrong. The five-star recruit reportedly was big man Nasir Little, who ended up committing to North Carolina. Larranaga does have a relationship with Adidas executive Jim Gatto, who was allegedly involved in the payment of a Louisville recruit that eventually got Cardinals coach Rick Pitino fired.
Fuller’s prediction (7-0 picks record): Gophers 86, Alabama 81. The Gophers have not played a top-10 opponent in nonconference play at the Barn since falling to No. 4 Cincinnati 62-61 in 1998-99. That’s nearly 20 years ago, so it’s been a long, long time since Minnesota fans were treated to a game of this caliber before Big Ten play. Didn’t Gopher faithful always ask for marquee matchups at home in November? Well, they get their wish Wednesday night. Miami’s ranking is mostly based off potential and returning several players from a team that beat Duke and North Carolina last season. The Hurricane haven’t been tested yet this season with their closest game against LaSalle. Minnesota has already played in a hostile road environment at Providence and beaten a top-25 opponent in Alabama at a neutral site. That experience against quality competition will come in handy now. Murphy and Lynch will be too much inside for Larranaga’s undersized four-guard lineup. Minnesota should carry an undefeated record into an early Big Ten opener Sunday against Rutgers at home.