Gophers men’s hoops vs. Oklahoma State in Tulsa

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Backcourt depth – Both the Gophers and Oklahoma State are expected to play without starters in the backcourt in Saturday’s game. Junior Payton Willis will miss his first game of the season with a lingering ankle injury. The Cowboys are expected to play their fourth straight game without leading scorer and sophomore guard Isaac Likekele, who has been sidelined with an undisclosed illness.  Willis, who is averaging 11.0 points and leads the team with 27 three-pointers, tweaked his ankle in Sunday’s 84-71 win against then-No. 3 Ohio State. But Willis was hobbling since first suffering the injury in the 20-point loss Dec. 9 at Iowa. Freshman Tre’ Williams replaced Willis in the second half of Sunday’s game to play a career-high 27 minutes. But Pitino could look to freshmen Isaiah Ihnen and Michael Hurt as well to contribute more. Likekele (13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 5.0 apg) had nine points on 3-for-7 shooting in his last game in a Nov. 29 win against Mississippi. Senior Lindy Waters III had 29 points, six rebounds and six assists in an 81-74 loss to Georgetown in the next game. But Oklahoma State is 1-2 without Likekele. Freshman Chris Harris Jr. started twice and sophomore Dee Mitchell once in the last three games in Likekele’s spot.

Marcus Carr’s encore – How will Gophers point guard Marcus Carr follow up his career-best 35-point performance in Sunday’s win against the Buckeyes? The last time Carr had a big game at home with a 24-point effort against Clemson at home, the sophomore co-captain had just two points on 1-for-10 shooting in a loss at Iowa on Dec. 9. Carr’s averaging just 8.7 points on 20 percent shooting in three true road games this season – all losses (at Butler, Utah and Iowa). But Carr played well with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in a neutral site loss vs. Oklahoma last month. A critical factor in Carr’s impact in the Gophers wins and losses this season has been his foul shooting. In five wins, Carr is shooting 84 percent on free throws (21 for 25). But he shot an abysmal 37.5 percent (9 for 24) combined at the foul line in three losses, while also not attempting a free throw in the last two losses vs. DePaul and Iowa.   

Another big man battle – There has been a string of talented opposing big men trying to get the best of Gophers sophomore Daniel Oturu, but he’s outplayed them all. In the last four games, Oturu faced DePaul’s Paul Reed, Clemson’s Aamir Simms, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, but he averaged 19 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks during that stretch. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Oturu seems to play even better when challenged in the post this year. Next up will be Oklahoma State’s 6-10 sophomore Yor Anei, who is also having a breakout second season Anei, who led the Cowboys with 18 points and eight rebounds in last week’s 61-55 win vs. Houston, improved his scoring (7.7 to 12.1), rebounding (4.6 to 6.3), foul shooting (64.1 to 72.2) and blocks (2.6 to 2.7) this year. Anei had four blocks in the loss to the Gophers at U.S. Bank Stadium last season.

GAME INFO

Time: 4:30 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: BOK Center. Line: Minnesota 3.5-point underdog. Series: Gophers lead the series 4-3, including last meeting 83-76 win at U.S. Bank Stadium o Nov. 30, 2018. TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: ESPN Watch. Radio: 103.5.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (5-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 190 So. 15.2

G – Tre’ Williams 6-5 195 Fr. 3.1

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 So. 11.2

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 235 Sr. 7.7

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 245 So. 17.6

Key reserves– Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 3.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.9 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 1.2 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 135-111 (8th season overall)  

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 … Minnesota hasn’t played in Tulsa since a 66-63 win vs. the University of Tulsa (coached by Clarence Iba) during the 1953-54 season. The Gophers, who were led by Dick Garmaker and Chuck Mencel, actually played Tulsa twice that season, including in a 62-60 win at Williams Arena … Senior Jordan Murphy dominated last year’s win against Oklahoma State with 24 points and 16 rebounds. Minnesota got 60 points in that game from players no longer with the program, including 15 points off the bench from Isaiah Washington (transferred to Iona).

OKLAHOMA STATE (8-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Dee Mitchell 6-2 190 So. 1.8

G – Thomas Dziagwa 6-4 190 Sr. 9.2

G – Lindy Waters 6-6 210 Sr. 13.4

F – Cameron McGriff 6-7 220 Sr. 10.5

C – Yor Anei 6-10 235 So. 12.1

Key reserves – Chris Harris, G, 6-3, Fr., 3.8 ppg; Avery Anderson, G, 6-2, Fr., 2.8 ppg; Jonathan Laurent, G-F, 6-6, Sr., 2.3 ppg; Keylan Boone, F, 6-8, Fr., 3.2 ppg; Kalib Boone, F, 6-9, Fr., 3.4 ppg.

Coach: Mike Boynton 41-37 (3rd season)  

Notable: The Cowboys returned their entire starting five from a team that finished 21-15 and 8-10 in the Big 12 last season. Only 19 teams nationally and three Power Five programs (Notre Dame, Illinois and Maryland) could say the same … Oklahoma State ranks No. 31 in KenPom and No. 36 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, an evaluation tool to determine NCAA tournament selection. Boynton’s team is one of the best in college basketball this season in defensive efficiency at 15th nationally and fourth in the Big 12.

Fuller’s prediction (5-5 with picks): Gophers 73, Oklahoma State 70. 

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