Gophers men’s hoops at Rutgers
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Finding third option – Who has the Big Ten’s best center-point guard tandem? A good bet would be the Gophers with sophomores Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr, the only teammates averaging at least 20 points in league play. Oturu is averaging 23.1 points (2nd in the Big Ten), 12.9 rebounds (1st) and 2.4 blocks (2nd). Carr averages 20 points (3rd) and 7.4 assists (3rd) in conference games. Their combined play has led Minnesota to four Big Ten wins at home. The Gophers are 0-5 in true road games, including 0-3 in the league. Even with Carr and Oturu combining for 56 points, they still fell in double overtime at Purdue. Richard Pitino is looking for a consistent third option. Pitino has only two players averaging double figures in Big Ten play, but senior Alihan Demir is close at 9.4 points per game, to go with 5.9 rebounds. Sophomore guard Gabe Kalscheur also seems due for a breakout game. He ranks third on the team in scoring but his numbers dropped significantly in Big Ten play from 15.4 to just 7.0 in points per game and 43.6 to an abysmal 16.3 percent three-point shooting in seven Big Ten games. But Kalscheur had 21 points on 6-for-6 shooting from three in a 68-64 loss at Rutgers last season.
Rebounds and free throws – The Gophers finally have their identity figured out. Better late than never. Similar to last season they try to dominate opponents on the boards and outshoot them from the free throw line. In Big Ten play, Pitino’s team ranks third (behind only Michigan State’s plus-9.3 and Indiana’s plus-8.1) with plus-5.3 rebounding margin through seven games. Jordan Murphy was the GOAT when it came to rebounding for the Gophers during his career (1,307 boards is 2nd in Big Ten history). But Oturu is picking up where he left off by leading the conference with 12.1 boards per game. The Gophers are tied for third in free throw percentage with Michigan State at 75.4 percent. They are getting nearly all of their free throws from two players, though. Carr and Oturu combined to shoot 19 for 25 from the foul line in Wednesday’s 75-69 win against Penn State (team shot 23 for 29). Pitino hopes that other starters get to the charity stripe as well, especially guards Kalscheur and Payton Willis (have not got to the foul line in four of the last five games). Rutgers is formidable on the glass with a plus-3.8 rebound margin to rank sixth in Big Ten games. But the Scarlet Knights really have struggled in free throw shooting this season, ranking last in the Big Ten and 328th out of 353 Division I teams at 63.9 percent (even worse in league play at 62.6).
Fatigue factor – The Gophers haven’t won a true road game this season, but they had a victory at Purdue slip from their grasp with a five-point lead in the last 3 ½ minutes. It was the only time this season and second time the last two seasons that they (27-2 record) lost after leading in the last five minutes. Was fatigue a factor? Possibly. Carr, who played 48 of 50 minutes in the double overtime loss in West Lafayette, averages 38.9 minutes in conference games to lead the Big Ten. Oturu is third in conference games at 37 minutes per game. He’s the only post player other than Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman (35.0) in the top 10. When it comes to finishing games strong the Gophers don’t have to look any further than the last time they played at Rutgers. They saw a nine-point second half lead evaporate in a 68-64 loss against the Scarlet Knights. Will Pitino use his bench a bit more to make sure Oturu and Carr have enough gas left in the tank in crunch time?
Time: 12 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Rutgers Athletic Center. Line: Minnesota 4.5-point underdog. Series: Minnesota leads the official series 8-3, but Rutgers won 68-64 in the last meeting in Piscataway on Feb. 24, 2019. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 100.3
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (10-7, 4-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 16.5
G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 9.4
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 11.9
F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 8.2
C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 20.3
Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.5 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.8 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.8 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 140-113 (8th season overall)
Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery in the fall on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season. The last time Curry saw the court for the Gophers was with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes in a win at Northwestern on Feb. 28, 2019. Curry’s best performance last season was with 11 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench in a 65-64 victory against Penn State on Jan. 19 at the Barn.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (13-4, 4-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Montez Mathis 6-4 So. 6.7
G – Ron Harper Jr. 6-6 So. 11.8
G – Caleb McConnell 6-7 So. 7.3
F – Akwasi Yeboah 6-6 Sr. 9.3
C – Myles Johnson 6-11 So. 9.3
Key reserves – Geo Baker, G, 6-4, Jr., 11.2 ppg; Paul Mulcahy, G, 6-6, Fr., 3.8 ppg; Shaq Carter, F, 6-9, Sr., 3.8 ppg; Jacob Young, G, 6-2, Jr., 8.8 ppg.
Coach: Steve Pikiell 249-214 (15th season)
Notable: After finishing last in the Big Ten in four straight seasons, the Scarlet Knights had their best record since joining the Big Ten at 7-10 in 2018-19. Rutgers is undefeated (10-0) at the RAC this season, including victories against Wisconsin, Seton Hall and Penn State. Scarlet Knights junior guard Geo Baker returned from injury to have seven points, four assists and two steals in Wednesday’s 59-50 win against Indiana. Baker, who ranks second on the team in scoring (11.1) and first in both assists (4.0) and steals, missed three games with a broken thumb … Rutgers (No. 8 seed) and Minnesota (No. 12) were among 12 Big Ten teams included in ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi’s NCAA tournament projections Friday. The Scarlet Knights haven’t made the NCAA tourney since 1991.
Fuller’s prediction (11-6 with picks): Rutgers 70, Gophers 66.