Gophers men’s hoops vs. Penn State
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Homegrown talent – Sophomore sensation Daniel Oturu returned to the court to a standing ovation at Williams Arena after an injury scare in the second half of Sunday’s 75-67 win against Michigan. Oturu put on a show in the first half with 20 of his career-best 30 points, but he came back to spark the Gophers to their second win this season against a ranked opponent at home. After the game, Oturu talked about how special it was to hear support from the crowd. “It’s a blessing to be in a situation like this. I’m a homestate kid. To have everybody stand up and show that they care means a lot. I just want to be able to win for our fans. It means a lot because I’m from here.” Richard Pitino struck gold with landing the 6-foot-10 Oturu as a four-star center out of Cretin-Derham Hall in 2018. The Gophers haven’t signed a Minnesota high school player in two of the last three classes since, but they still have sophomores Gabe Kalscheur (DeLaSalle) and Jarvis Omersa (Orono) and senior Michael Hurt (Rochester John Marshall). Penn State wouldn’t have a chance to get to its first NCAA tournament since 2001 without homegrown talent. Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers has seven players from Pennsylvania on his roster, including three of his top four scorers in seniors Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins and Izaiah Brockington. During Penn State’s victory over Iowa at the Palestra in Philadelphia earlier this month, Stevens yelled out: “This is my city.” Stevens starred at Roman Catholic in high school.
Bad D vs. Good O – The Nittany Lions have seen their defensive numbers drop significantly in Big Ten play. They rank 13th in scoring defense (78.2), 13th in field goal percentage defense (43.9) and last in three-point percentage defense (38.7). The Gophers on the opposite end of the spectrum have the highest offensive efficiency (No. 19 by KenPom nationally) for their program since before Pitino arrived in 2012-13 if the season ended today. Why is Minnesota’s offense going so well you ask? Well, it definitely starts with the dominance in the paint from Oturu, who averages 19.9 points per game and ranks 27th in the country with 66.7 percent shooting from inside the arc. Shooting percentages around the country from three-point range have gone down on average this season with the longer distance, but he Gophers have actually seen improvement so far from 31.7 to 33.7 percent. Pitino’s team ranks fourth in scoring offense (70.7), fifth in free throw percentage (74.3) and sixth in field goal percentage (43.2) in Big Ten games.
Replacing Murphy’s dominance vs. Penn St – The Gophers have won four straight games against Penn State in the last three seasons. You could say it was in large part due to the performance of Jordan Murphy. The former All-Big Ten forward averaged an impressive 18 points and 17.5 rebounds against the Nittany Lions. Yes, that’s right. His best games in the series included 22 points and 19 rebounds in a 95-84 overtime win in State College in 2017-18 and 19 points and a career-high tying 21 rebounds in a 65-64 win at the Barn last season. Who replaces that production for the Gophers on Wednesday? Sure, Oturu had some monster performances already this year, including 29 points and 18 rebounds at Purdue and 20 points and 20 rebounds (first U player since 1966) against Florida International. But he’ll need some help coming off a Michigan game where he banged up his shoulder. Senior forward Alihan Demir is no Murphy, but he’s been playing his best basketball lately. The Drexel graduate transfer is averaging 11 points and seven rebounds in his last three games.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota 2.5-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads the official series 28-10, including last meeting 77-72 in overtime in the Big Ten tournament first round on March 14, 2019 in Chicago. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTN2go. Radio: 100.3
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (9-7, 3-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 15.9
G – Payton Willis 6-5 200 Jr. 9.8
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 12.3
F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 8.2
C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 19.9
Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.8 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 2.5 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.9 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.8 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 139-113 (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 Jan. 19 at the Barn.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (12-4, 2-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Jamari Wheeler 6-1 Jr. 4.1
G – Myles Dread 6-4 So. 7.8
G – Myreon Jones 6-3 So. 13.8
F – Lamar Stevens 6-8 Sr. 16.3
C – Mike Watkins 6-9 Sr. 10.4
Key reserves – Curtis Jones, G, 6-4, Sr., 7.1 ppg; Izaiah Brockington, G, 6-4, So., 10.8 ppg; John Harrar, F, 6-9, Jr., 2.4 ppg; Seth Lundy, F, 6-6, Fr., 3.5 ppg.
Coach: Pat Chambers 181-172 (11th season)
Notable: Penn State was ranked No. 20 in the nation last week after winning five straight games, including against then-No. 5 Maryland and then-No. 23 Iowa. The Nittany Lions earned their first national ranking in 23 years this season, but they lost it this week after losses to Rutgers and Wisconsin. They haven’t won at the Barn since 2015, but Stevens and Watkins have played well against the Gophers during their career. Stevens combined for 51 points in two games against Minnesota last season, highlighted by a 27-point effort his last time in Minneapolis. Watkins averaged 13.4 points and nine rebounds in five career games against the Gophers. In fact, the 6-9, 260-pound Philadelphia native was a force with 15 points and 15 rebounds in Penn State’s last win in the series, 52-50 in State College on Jan. 14, 2017 ... Brockington leads the team in scoring with 15 points per game in Big Ten play.
Fuller’s prediction (10-6 with picks): Gophers 72, Penn State 70.