Gophers men’s basketball at Rutgers

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Three-point impact – How often have the Gophers won relying on three-point shooting? Less than a handful of times this season. They’ve hit double digits in three-pointers three times, including 10-for-24 from beyond the arc in the last meeting with Rutgers in an 88-70 win Jan. 12. Senior Dupree McBrayer led the team with 4-for-6 shooting from three against the Scarlet Knights. McBrayer's 15 points that night was the last double figure game he scored until his 10 points last weekend vs. Indiana. It took him nine games to find his stroke again (6-for-31 from three combined in that span). The reality is that Minnesota isn't a good shooting team at just 31.6 percent from deep and last in the Big Ten with 5.3 three-pointers per game, ranking 341st among 353 Division I college basketball teams. One game after hitting a season-high 12 three-pointers to beat Indiana last weekend, the Gophers came down to earth with a 1-for-10 performance from long range in a 69-60 loss Thursday to No. 7 Michigan. The only three was hit by freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who had just five points on 2-for-4 shooting from the field in 37 minutes. That was a after a 20-point performance with six threes vs. Indiana. Richard Pitino and his staff hope to find more ways to get Kalscheur, McBrayer and Amir Coffey going from long distance. Part of the plans was to use a high-low offense to go through the post first. That worked vs. the Hoosiers. Kalscheur's the team's best outside shooter by far (39.9 to next closest Coffey’s 30.0 percent). The Gophers are 9-0 when they hit at least seven three-pointers as a team and 7-3 this season when Kalscheur has at least three three-pointers. Rutgers struggles to make and defend threes. The Scarlet Knights rank 12th in the Big Ten in threes per game (6.3), 13th in three-point percentage (31.3) and 13th in three-point defense (35.8).    

Omoruyi and Rutgers frontcourt – The Scarlet Knights are obviously a better team with Eugene Omoroyi. They upset Ohio State after he injured his knee early last month, but proceeded to lose three in a row without him, including to the Gophers. Omoruyi, who averages a team-best 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, returned to the lineup Jan. 21 vs. Nebraska. Rutgers won three consecutive games with Omoruyi back. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 66-58 win vs. Indiana at home. The junior forward’s best games since his return were 19 points in the rematch against Ohio State and 21 points against Michigan. Omoroyi’s the biggest weapon inside for Rutgers, but he’s not the biggest physically. Steve Pikiell has one of the most physically imposing frontcourt rotations in the Big Ten with 7-foot, 275-pound Shaquille Doorson, 6-9, 245-pound Shaq Carter and 6-10, 255-pound Myles Johnson, who tied his career-high with 13 points and eight rebounds vs. Minnesota last month. Omoruyi’s not a light weight, either. He’s 6-7 and 240 pounds.

Murphy on a mission – Jordan Murphy’s doing more than just dominating the glass. He’s putting the Gophers on his back right now trying to help them reach the NCAA tournament to finish his career. In the last nine games, Minnesota’s senior captain is averaging 16.4 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Some of his rebounding highs include 21 vs. Penn State, 19 vs. Wisconsin and 15 vs. Michigan. The 6-7, 250-pound Murphy is also scoring as well with 23 points vs. Iowa and 23 points vs. Indiana last weekend. His play during this stretch looks a lot like when Murphy earned All-Big Ten honors for the first time when the U reached the NCAAs in 2017. Much like that year, he has some help in the paint. Murphy and freshman center Daniel Oturu combined for 36 points and 27 rebounds in Thursday’s loss to Michigan. A bulk of Murphy’s scoring comes from the foul line with 7.52 free throws attempted per game, which leads all major conference frontcourt players. He’s been shooting around 70 percent on free throws, so it was surprising to see Murphy go just 2-for-8 at the line vs. Michigan.

GAME INFO

Time: 5:30 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Rutgers Athletic Center. Line: Gophers 1.5-point underdog. Series: Minnesota leads the series 8-2, including winning the last meeting 88-70 on Jan. 12 in Minneapolis.TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (17-10, 7-9 in Big Ten)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 14.9

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.3

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.3

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 15.1

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 11.1

Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 4.2 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.5 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.5 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.8 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 125-102 (7th season)  

Notable: Gophers junior guard Amir Coffey had 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field in the 18-point win on Jan. 12 against Rutgers at Williams Arena. Coffey was leading the Big Ten in scoring with 23 points per game in league play at that time, but he’s averaging 12.5 points in the 11 games since. Coffey had six points on 2-for-15 shooting from the field vs. Michigan. It was his third game under double figures in points in the last five games. The Gophers are 9-2 this season when Coffey scores 17 points or more, but he only averages 11.8 points in their 10 losses. Murphy, Oturu and Kalscheur taking pressure off Coffey to be the focal point of the offense will be a major factor in the last four regular season games, including Sunday at Rutgers … Senior guard Brock Stull reached 1,000 points in his career Thursday against Michigan. Stull had six points with two threes in a win Jan. 3 at Wisconsin, but he’s scored just five points combined in 11 games and not played at all twice in games since. He’s also shot just 1-for-6 threes in that span.    

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (12-14, 5-11) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Geo Baker 6-4 So. 13.2

G-Montez Mathis 6-4 Fr. 8.6

F-Ron Harper Jr. 6-6 Fr. 7.0

F-Eugene Omoruyi 6-7 Jr. 13.6

F-Shaquille Doorson 7-0 Sr. 3.8

Key reserves– Shaq Carter, F, 6-9, So., 4.8 ppg; Myles Johnson, F, 6-10, Fr., 4.6 ppg; Caleb McConnell, G, 6-6, 4.5 ppg; Peter Kiss, G, 6-5, So., 6.4 ppg.

Coach: Steve Pikiell 234-207 (14th season)  

Notable: The Scarlet Knights won three straight Big Ten games earlier this season for the first time since joining the conference, but they’ve lost five of their last six games since, including 71-60 Wednesday at Michigan State. Sophomore guard Geo Baker is averaging 14.3 points in his last four games, which includes 17 points and six assists against the Spartans … Rutgers ranks 19th nationally and first in the Big Ten with 13.0 offensive rebounds per game. Minnesota is second the conference with 12.4 offensive boards per game. 

Fuller’s prediction (prediction record 15-12)Gophers 78, Rutgers 72. The Gophers are looking to turnaround a losing trend on the road. They are 1-7 in road games, including five straight losses away from home since a Jan. 3 victory at Wisconsin. Pitino’s team was focused and came out strong in its last road game at Nebraska before falling late on a questionable foul call. The Gophers can’t let it come down to a last-second play again. And they won’t Sunday to stay in NCAA tournament contention.

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Pregame: Gophers' high-low offense gets best out of Jordan Murphy

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