Texas A&M vs. Gophers men’s basketball
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
ROAD MENTALITY – This isn’t a true road game, but the Gophers are playing their first of six straight games away from Williams Arena. After this three-game series in the Vancouver Showcase versus Texas A&M, Santa Clara and Washington, Minnesota plays at Boston College, vs. Okahoma State at U.S. Bank Stadium and at Ohio State to open Big Ten play. The next game on the Gophers' home court won't be until Dec. 5 against Nebraska. Four games during this upcoming stretch are at neutral sites, including Sunday night against Texas A&M to open the Vancouver Showcase (also Tuesday vs. Santa Clara and Wednesday vs. Washington). Don’t count on Aggies fans outnumbering Gophers faithful in attendance at the Vancouver Convention Centre, but it still won’t be like playing at the Barn. Five newcomers will be playing their first game away from home for the Gophers, including freshmen starters Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur. With their friends and family cheering in the crowd, Kalscheur and Oturu combined for 32 points in Monday’s 78-69 win against Utah. How will Kalscheur, Oturu and fellow freshman Jarvis Omersa respond after flying nearly 1,500 miles to another country and having to face an SEC opponent on national TV in a ball room? This will be a different experience for the whole team, but the poise of Pitino’s younger players will be tested Sunday night.
HOLDING THE LEAD – The Gophers got off to fast start in the season opening win against Omaha with an 11-point lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes. Everything looked good until Richard Pitino went to his bench for the first time in the 2018-19 season. Minnesota was outscored 19-6 to trail by two late in the first half. The starters responded, though, sending a big message with a 26-5 run for a 19-point halftime advantage. In Monday’s win against Utah, star forward Jordan Murphy got into early foul trouble. Murphy’s absence saw the Gophers fall behind 18-14, but Kalscheur’s four first-half three-pointers helped them regain control by halftime. Minnesota’s 15-point lead shrunk to just five late against the Utes before Pitino’s team gave itself enough cushion feel comfortable down the stretch in the second half. Maybe seeing Rick Pitino cheering on his son in Vancouver can help motivate the Gophers to keep their foot on the gas and put their opponents away sooner rather than later. If not it could bite them at some point, especially with a stretch of six of the next seven games against major conference opponents.
GOPHERS GUARD DEPTH –Minnesota found out earlier this week that Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr will not play this season after his waiver request was denied for the second time by the NCAA. That’s not the end of the world for the Gophers, who have more depth in the backcourt than last season. Junior Amir Coffey and sophomore Isaiah Washington are handling point guard duties without Carr. Coffey leads the team in scoring (16 ppg), free throw shooting percentage (84.6) and free throws (11-for-13), but he also averages a career-best five assists per game. Washington, who had a career-high 11 assists in the opener, is averaging a team-best six assists, but he’s looking to bounce back from being held to just two points on 1-for-7 shooting with just one assist against Utah. Senior Dupree McBrayer and Kalscheur are shooting a combined 13-for-18 (72 percent) from three-point range in two games. Pitino liked his guard rotation so much against Utah that graduate transfer Brock Stull didn’t get off the bench. Texas A&M’s Admon Gilder (hamstring, knee) and Wendell Mitchell (tendinitis) have missed the first three games this season. The Aggies still have some perimeter punch with TJ Starks, who scored 14 of his 16 points to keep his team competitive in the first half of Thursday’s loss at No. 3 Gonzaga. Starks carried over the momentum from his freshman season when he averaged 14.7 points in his last 15 games, including 21 points in an NCAA tournament win against North Carolina.
Time: 9:30 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Vancouver Convention Centre. Line: plus-5. Series: Tied 1-1; Texas A&M won the last meeting 66-65 in the 76 Classic in Anaheim on Nov. 29, 2009. Gophers won first meeting 69-63 at the Barn on Dec. 29, 1979. TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (2-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 16.0
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 14.0
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 13.5
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 11.5
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 13.5
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 3.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 4.0 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.0 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 6.5 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 5.0 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 92-78 (6th season)
Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, missed the first two games after knee surgery before the season. Curry averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native started in the Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton, but he was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee swelling. Curry is expected to miss at least the first six games of the 2018-19 season.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES (1-2)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-TJ Starks 6-2 So. 13.3
G-Jay Jay Chandler 6-4 So. 10.3
G-Brandon Mahan 6-3 Sr. 4.7
F-Savion Flagg 6-7 So. 17.7
F-Christian Mekowulu 6-8 Sr. 4.7
Key reserves– Josh Nebo, F, 6-9, Jr., 8.3 ppg; John Walker, F, 6-9, RS-Fr., 10.3 ppg; Isiah Jasey, F, 6-10, So., 5.0 ppg; Chris Collins, G, 6-3, Sr., 3.0 ppg.
Coach: Billy Kennedy 349-279 (21st season)
Notable: Kennedy reached his second Sweet 16 with the Aggies last season, but he lost three starters from last season’s 22-13 team, including one of the SEC’s top frontcourts with Tyler Davis (14.9 points and 8.9 rpg) and Robert Williams (10.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg). Williams was drafted in the first round and 27th overall to the Boston Celtics. Gilder, who hasn’t played this season, was the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder with 12.3 ppg and 4.1 rpg. Flagg is having a breakout season so far improving his scoring from 4.1 points to 17.7 from his freshman to sophomore year.
Fuller’s prediction: Gophers 80, Texas A&M 72. Minnesota’s offense should be just too balanced and efficient for an unproven Texas A&M defense to handle Sunday night. The Gophers rank second in the nation in effective field goal percentage (64.8). What does that exactly mean do you ask? Well, effective FG percentage is the most accurate way to evaluate how well a team scores from the field, because it gives more credit to making three-pointers than two-pointers (obviously, you should since it’s worth one more point). It’s hard to call Pitino’s offense high-octane after just two games and struggling mightily at times against Utah’s 2-3 zone, but the numbers so far are impressive. Minnesota ranks tied for first in the Big Ten in scoring (91 ppg), first in field goal percentage (57.6), first in assists per game (24.0) and third in three-point shooting percentage (42.5). All five starters average double figures in scoring, but surprisingly returning All-Big Ten forward Murphy is fifth with 11.3 points per game. Look for Murphy to have his first breakout scoring game of the year Sunday night against an undersized Texas A&M frontcourt.