GOPHERS MEN’S HOOPS vs. INDIANA
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Finishing strong – If this turns out to be a Gophers basketball season defined by missed opportunities, the biggest one of them all so far was Sunday’s 58-55 loss against Iowa at Williams Arena. Just when the first sellout crowd of the season thought they were about to watch their team earn a much-needed quality win it all fell apart in the last handful of minutes. The Hawkeyes outscored the Gophers 11-0 after trailing 55-47 with 5:25 to play. It was only the second time this season (11-1 record previously) that Minnesota lost when leading with five minutes left. The other loss happened in an 83-78 double-overtime defeat at Purdue on Jan. 2. In both games, the Gophers allowed their opponent to gain momentum by giving up the ball. On Sunday, Minnesota’s five turnovers in six possessions (also two 10-second calls for not passing midcourt) basically handed the victory over to Iowa on a silver platter. They played not to lose, so they did. Sunday made it the ninth loss by single digits this season. NINTH. The trend is the Gophers can’t win close games, so it’s up to them to fix that. The Hoosiers have just as much pressure on them, trying to solidify themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble. Richard Pitino didn’t spend time watching film of the late-game collapse vs. Iowa with his players. Maybe that will help Minnesota move on to finish strong Wednesday against Indiana.
More points at the foul line – The Gophers struggled to get points at the foul line earlier in the season, which contributed to four losses in nonconference play. Pitino addressed the issue. It got better for a period of time, but his team is still inconsistent in that area. Of course, star sophomore Daniel Oturu missing the first of two potential free throws with a chance to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left Sunday was a deflating end to a rough loss. But the Gophers shot just 6-for-12 on free throws, including Oturu going 3-for-7. Pitino’s team dropped to 4-10 this season when the opponent attempts more free throws. Oturu and point guard Marcus Carr are the only U players who get to the foul line consistently. And that’s a huge part of the problem. In the last two losses (also at Penn State), the Gophers shot 17-for-25 combined at the charity stripe, but Carr and Oturu accounted for 16-for-23. That’s just one point on free throws (from Alihan Demir) from the rest of the team in two critical Big Ten games. Starting guard Gabe Kalscheur has gone without attempting a free throw in six of the last eight games, including the last two losses. Same goes for fellow backcourt mate Payton Willis, who hasn’t gone to the foul line in seven of his last 10 games, including the last two games. Carr and Oturu have made 75.7 percent of the team’s free throws in Big Ten play (128 of 169). The rest of the team has accounted for just 41 points at the line in 14 league games.
Defensive impact – Everyone watching the Gophers implode offensively late in the Iowa loss likely wondered the same thing. Why couldn’t they handle a zone or press? Most Big Ten teams don’t run the 1--2-2 three quarter-court press into a zone like the Hawkeyes. But Minnesota has to be able to shoot better than 29 percent from three-point range to keep defenses honest, which ranks last in Big Ten play. Indiana is 13th in league play in field goal defense (45 percent) and three-point defense (35.7 percent), so this might be a game where the Gophers can break out a bit offensively from the outside. If Pitino's offense goes through long shooting slumps Wednesday, the Gophers defense should be able to keep them in the game. They rank fifth in Big Ten play holding opponents to 41 percent shooting from the field.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 5.5-point favorite. Series: Indiana holds the edge 95-67, but Minnesota won the last meeting 84-63 on Feb. 16, 2019 at home. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 100.3
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (12-12, 6-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 So. 15.4
G – Payton Willis 6-5 Jr. 9.1
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 So. 11.7
F – Alihan Demir 6-9 Sr. 7.3
C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 So. 19.9
Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.4 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 1.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.5 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 142-118 (8th season overall)
Notable: The Gophers were currently on only six of a possible 108 NCAA tournament bracket projections, according to the Bracket Matrix online tracker before Wednesday's games. They fell off the bubble in most predictions with Sunday's loss against Iowa, but their metrics still are bubble worthy. Minnesota's NET ranking is No. 44 and strength of schedule (SOS) is No. 27. Based on Wednesday's NET rankings, Pitino's team also is 5-10 in Quadrant 1 games. If you take overall record out of the mix, the Gophers have a better NET, SOS and Quad 1 win total than Indiana. Still, the NCAA tournament selection committee won't consider a team with a .500 record. Last season, Minnesota received an at-large bid going 6-11 in Quad 1 games and SOS at No. 39.
INDIANA HOOSIERS (16-9, 6-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Rob Phinisee 6-1 So. 7.1
G – Ali Durham 6-4 Jr. 9.8
F – Justin Smith 6-7 Jr. 11.0
F – Trayce Jackson-Davis 6-9 Fr. 13.6
C – Joey Brunk 6-11 Jr. 7.7
Key reserves – Devonte Green, G, 6-3, Sr., 10.6 ppg; Jerome Hunter, G, 6-4, So., 4.3 ppg; De’Ron Davis, C, 6-10, Sr., 2.8 ppg; Race Thompson, F, 6-8, So., 3.1 ppg; Armaan Franklin, G, 6-4, Fr., 4.0 ppg.
Coach: Archie Miller 190-103 (9th season)
Notable: The Hoosiers are among ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” as of early Wednesday. They were comfortably in the NCAA tournament projections until suffering five losses in their last six games, including 89-65 at Michigan on Sunday. Indiana had snapped a four-game losing streak last week with a 89-77 win at home vs. Iowa … Hoosiers sophomore forward Race Thompson had a career-high 10 points and four steals in 24 minutes recently against Iowa. The 6-foot-8 former Armstrong standout was limited the last two seasons with injuries, but he’s averaging 3.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 22 games this year.
Fuller’s prediction (14-10 with picks): Gophers 68, Indiana 62.