INDIANA AT GOPHERS
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
THREE-POINT DEFENSE– One of the Gophers’ most impressive defensive statistical improvements from last season is opponent’s three-point shooting percentage. Last season, Minnesota’s opponents shot the highest percentage from beyond the arc since 1989-90 at 38.1. The Gophers rank first in the Big Ten this year in three-point shooting defense (30.2). They’ll be put to the test Wednesday against Indiana, which ranks second in the conference in scoring (80.6), fourth in three-point shooting percentage (38.0) and third in three-pointers made per game (8.6). Hoosiers leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. missed three games this season, but he still leads the Big Ten in three-pointers made (66) and attempted (157). Blackmon also shoots 42 percent from long distance.
MURPHY’S NEW LAW– What could go wrong didn’t go wrong with Jordan Murphy the last two games. The 6-foot-6 sophomore was named Big Ten co-player of the week Monday for averaging 21 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks in wins over Iowa and Rutgers. He’s focusing on exactly what made him an All-Big Ten freshman last season – rebounding and finishing strong at the rim. His effort and energy has improved with his confidence. Indiana coach Tom Crean actually offered Murphy a scholarship and wanted him to visit officially after he got out of his letter of intent at Virginia Commonwealth in 2015.
BATTLE OF BIGS– Minnesota center Reggie Lynch can make his case for Big Ten defensive player of the year stronger Wednesday by shutting down Indiana’s Thomas Bryant. Lynch, a 6-foot-10 junior, leads the conference and ranks third nationally with 3.2 blocks per game. Bryant, a 6-10 sophomore, is the second highest scoring center in the league at 13.3 points per game. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who is the Big Ten’s top scoring center, had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a win Jan. 21 at Minnesota. The Gophers didn’t double team Happ. They might have to think about that if Lynch gets into foul trouble or can't slow down Bryant.
Time: 8 P.M. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by 5 1/2. Series: Indiana leads 93-65; Indiana won last meeting 74-68 Jan. 30, 2016 in Bloomington, Ind. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN2go Radio: 1500ESPN.
MINNESOTA (18-7, 6-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.5
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.2
G-Akeem Springs 6-4 Sr. 10.2
F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 So. 10.3
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.3
Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, So., 10.6 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 6.0 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 1.8 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 87-72 (5th season)
Notable: Pitino has only beaten the Hoosiers once in his four seasons with the Gophers. That happened in a 66-60 win at Williams Arena in his first year with the program in 2013-14. It was a big night. The first sellout at the Barn under the new staff attracted Louisville coach Rick Pitino to watch his son. The Pitino family member getting the most attention, though, was definitely Richard’s brother, Ryan, who wore a bright yellow chicken suit in the crowd. Talk about awkward. Former Gophers coach Clem Haskins didn’t seem awkward returning to see his 1989 Elite Eight team honored at halftime. Haskins hadn’t been back much at all since resigning following the academic fraud scandal that wiped out several seasons, including the 1997 Final Four and Big Ten championship season.
INDIANA (15-11, 5-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Josh Newkirk 6-1 RS-Jr. 8.6
G-James Blackmon 6-4 Jr. 16.8
G-Robert Johnson 6-3 Jr. 13.7
F-Juwan Morgan 6-8 So. 6.7
C-Thomas Bryant 6-11 So. 13.3
Key reserves–De’ron Davis, F/C, 6-10, Fr., 6.1 ppg; Devonte Green, G, 6-3, Fr., 3.7 ppg; Freddie McSwain, F, 6-6, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Grant Gelon, G, 6-5, Fr., 2.0 ppg; Zach McRoberts, G, 6-6, RS-So., 1.0 ppg.
Coach: Tom Crean 353-226 (18th season)
Notable: Blackmon has only played against the Gophers once in his career. He missed the Big Ten season last year after suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. In his only game against Minnesota, Blackmon had 24 points on 6-for-10 shooting from three-point range in a 90-71 win in Bloomington on Feb. 15, 2015. Nate Mason was a freshman coming off the bench on that Gophers squad. Mason is now arguably Minnesota’s top player as a junior starting point guard.
Fuller’s prediction (22-3 picks record): Gophers 75, Indiana 69. The Gophers are playing their best basketball at the right time. They’re taking a three-game winning streak into a favorable stretch of four of the last six regular season games at home, starting Wednesday against Indiana. All four of those home games are realistically winnable. The next two opponents, Indiana and Michigan, have explosive offenses that rely on three-point shooting. Defending the three happens to be Minnesota’s strength, so Pitino should be celebrating a big win Wednesday against the Hoosiers. He would tie the program record for the biggest one-season turnaround with 11 wins from 8-23 to 19-7. The Gophers went from 9-22 to 20-14 in the first season under Tubby Smith in 2007-08.