Gophers men’s hoops vs. Oklahoma in Sioux Falls, S.D.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Daniel Oturu vs. Oklahoma frontcourt – Gophers coach Richard Pitino watched Jordan Murphy develop into one of the best big men in the country in four seasons. Murphy went from an All-Big Ten freshman player to a three-time all-conference performer, while becoming the No. 2 rebounder in Big Ten history. You don’t just replace a presence like that right away. But sophomore center Daniel Oturu is the next in line. Oturu made an early statement with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in Tuesday’s 85-50 opening win vs. Cleveland State. His six turnovers were a career-high, but it didn’t overshadow his impact on offense and defense. Now that the competition rises to another level Saturday night will Oturu get some help in the frontcourt? Drexel transfer Alihan Demir had 10 points but just two rebounds in 24 minutes in his Gophers debut. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen, a former four-star recruit, is out again Saturday after missing the opener with a right wrist injury. Oklahoma’s Brady Manek is on the preseason watch list for the Karl Malone Award. Senior Kristian Doolittle is expected to be the go-to guy inside. Doolittle missed the season opening win vs. Texas San Antonio after serving a one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Doolittle scored in double figures in 11 out of his final 12 games last season, which included posting 19 points and 15 rebounds in an NCAA tournament first round win vs. Mississippi. Pitino compared Doolittle to Penn State’s All-Big Ten forward Lamar Stevens, which is a scary thought.
Three-point line – If you take a look at the Sanford Pentagon court you’ll notice four different three-point arcs, which is for high school and men’s and women’s college and the NBA G League Sioux Falls Skyforce games. The third line is the correct one for Saturday’s game. College basketball’s new three-point line is 22 feet and 1 3/4 inches, which is the international three-point distance. Moving back a couple feet didn’t affect the Gophers at all in the season opener. They nailed 13-for-29 three-pointers, which was the most in a game since 2015. Six different Gophers connected from beyond the arc, most notably newcomers Marcus Carr and Payton Willis, who combined for eight three-pointers. The Gophers ranked 344th nationally in three-pointers per game (5.3) and 300th in three-point percentage (31.7) last season. And that was with Gabe Kalscheur making a freshman school record 77 three-pointers on 41 percent shooting. Kalscheur, who shot 3-for-8 in the opener from three, should have more help now from deep. Oklahoma got 62 points combined from guards De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves and Manek, but they shot just 4-for-19 from three-point range together vs. UTSA.
Turnover battle – The Gophers showed off great chemistry and unselfishness in the opener with an impressive 26 assists on 31 field goals, which included 20 assists and just three turnovers from the starting backcourt of Carr, Willis and Kalscheur. Problem is the rest of the team had 14 of the 17 turnovers, including eight turnovers combined from the starting frontcourt of Oturu and Demir. Minnesota gave up the ball away too often, but it also scored 28 points on 16 Cleveland State turnovers earlier this week. The Sooners forced 15 turnovers in their opening win, but nine of their 15 turnovers committed came from their new backcourt of Harmon, Reaves and Jamal Bieniemy.
Time: 7 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Sanford Pentagon. Line: 4.5-point underdogs. Series: Minnesota and Oklahoma series tied 4-4, including last meeting 67-54 loss in Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 27, 2004. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 103.5.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (1-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G - Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 18.0
G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 17.0
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 9.0
F - Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 10.0
C - Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 16.0
Reserves–Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 4.0 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 8.0 ppg; Bryan Greenlee, G, 6-0, Fr., 0.0 ppg; Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Sam Freeman, C, 6-10, Fr., 0.0 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 113-92 (7th season)
Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery last month 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. Ihnen was expected to help replace Curry’s minutes at power forward ... The Gophers are 1-1 in games at the Sanford Pentagon with a loss to Oklahoma State (62-60) in 2015 and a win against Vanderbilt (56-52) in 2016. Willis, a junior transfer, scored three points in 23 minutes for Vanderbilt in the game three years ago.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (1-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – De’Vion Harmon 6-1 200 Fr. 23.0.
G – Jamal Bieniemy 6-5 187 So.
G – Austin Reaves 6-5 202 Jr. 23.0
F- Kristian Doolittle 6-7 232 Sr.
F- Brady Manek 6-9 231 Jr. 16.0
Key reserves– Jalen Hill, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.0 ppg; Victor Iwuakor, F, 6-7, Fr., 7.0 ppg; Alondes Williams, G, 6-5, Jr., 7 ppg; Kur Kath, F, 6-9, Sr., 6 ppg.
Coach: Lon Kruger 640-409 (34th season)
Notable: Like the Gophers, the Sooners have seven newcomers this season. Leading the group is Texas native De’Vion Harmon, a former four-star recruit who won two gold medals with the USA basketball junior national teams in 2017 and 2018. One of his teammates both years was five-star Minnehaha Academy guard Jalen Suggs, who is a senior in high school. Wichita State transfers Austin Reaves sat out last season, but he played for Gophers assistant coach Kyle Lindsted with the Shockers in 2016-18. Lindsted joined Pitino’s staff at Minnesota last season ... The last time the Gophers and Oklahoma played was in 2004 when Lawrence McKenzie was playing for the Sooners in a 67-54 Minnesota loss in Alaska. McKenzie eventually transferred and finished his career back home with the Gophers in 2007-08.
Fuller’s prediction: Gophers 73, Oklahoma 70.
The Gophers are underdogs tonight against the Sooners, but they watched their football team pull off the big upset against No. 5 Penn State back home at TCF Bank Stadium. Not only are the fans that traveled to Sioux Falls to see the basketball team fired up but so are the players. It’s going to take more than inspiration from P.J. Fleck’s squad to help Pitino’s guys against Oklahoma. They will have to get off to a good start to gain confidence and get the Minnesota-heavy crowd engaged. Hitting shots from beyond the arc in the first half will also free up space for Oturu to go to work inside. The Gophers need the win tonight to take pressure off themselves going into two true road games next week at Butler on Tuesday and at Utah on Friday. This tough three-game stretch could determine if they will be an NCAA tournament contention early.