Gophers men’s basketball vs. Indiana
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Freshmen phenom – Freshman Romeo Langford could’ve played for any college program in America, but he chose to stay home to lead Indiana basketball back to prominence. Langford was one of Indiana’s best high school players ever. The 6-foot-6 guard went from a McDonald’s All-American to the Hoosiers’ top scorer this season with 17.5 points per game, including nine 20-point or more performances. Langford, a top-10 projected pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, is trying to keep Archie Miller’s squad in NCAA tournament contention. Where would the Gophers be if two of Minnesota’s top high school players left the state for college? Richard Pitino knew what he had in Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur, who are averaging 11.0 and 10.2 points per game, respectively. Oturu leads all Big Ten freshmen in rebounds (7.3), blocks (1.6) and field goal percentage (56.8). The 6-10 center is averaging a team-best 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks during Minnesota's four-game losings streak. So you really have to be impressed with how Oturu continues to compete facing adversity. Kalscheur leads the Gophers in three-point percentage (38.0) and threes (52). It will be tough to fill out an All-Big Ten freshman team ballot this year. Langford is a lock, but he might not be freshman of the year. That distinction likely belongs to either Michigan's Izzy Brazdeikis or Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu. Other freshmen standouts this year that need to be considered are Maryland's Jalen Smith, Illini's Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Iowa's Joe Wieskamp for sure.
Bench production – The Gophers haven't been able to rely on their bench, especially during the losing streak. Their lack of production was glaring with just two points in Wednesday’s 62-61 loss at Nebraska. Senior center Matz Stockman was the only player to score off the bench with two points in five minutes. Senior guard Brock Stull, freshman forward Jarvis Omersa and sophomore guard Isaiah Washington combined for just one assist and one rebound in 18 minutes. And just one shot was taken between the three players. The starters were giving everything they had in the final minutes to win the game, but they had to be exhausted. Junior guard Amir Coffey (39 minutes), senior guard Dupree McBrayer (36 minutes) and Oturu (35 minutes) either tied or played the most minutes in a game all season. Senior forward Jordan Murphy’s 33 minutes were more than his season average. Other than Oturu's production, the Gophers averaged just 4.5 points off the bench in the last four games. Sophomore big man Eric Curry’s expected return Saturday after a two-game absence with a calf injury is a welcomed sight. Curry, who started five games, is averaging 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Indiana’s bench scored 19 points in a recent loss against Ohio State, and it had 28 points in the Hoosiers’ last victory at Michigan State.
Finishing defense – Oturu did what he needed to stop what seemed like Nebraska’s final chance to win the game Wednesday against the Gophers. He blocked a layup attempt by Glynn Watson Jr. with seconds winding down. McBrayer grabbed the loose ball. Game over, right? Not so fast. McBrayer appeared to step out of bounds on the baseline. The Cornhuskers inbounded the ball to James Palmer Jr. and he drew the foul on Coffey to set up his game-winning free throws. As well as Minnesota played defensively down the stretch, it wasn’t able to finish the job. It was the second road loss this season where a loose ball decided the game. In a one-point loss at Michigan, Curry made a block on a last-second layup, but the ball deflected to Charles Matthews for the buzzer-beating jump shot.
Time: 1 p.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 3.0-point favorite. Series: Indiana leads the series 101-68, including winning the last meeting 80-56 on Feb. 9, 2018 in Bloomington, Ind.TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (16-9, 6-8 in Big Ten)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.2
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.4
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.2
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.7
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 11.0
Reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 4.5 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.7 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.6 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.8 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 124-100 (7th season)
Notable: Oturu's the Gophers' scoring leader during their four-game losing streak. So what happened to the team's veterans? Coffey is averaging just 11.3 points and has more turnovers than assists 9-7 during the losing streak. Murphy has been his dominant self on the glass (12 rpg in four games), but he's averaging just 12.5 points on 41.9 percent shooting from the field. McBrayer's production has declined the most with just 5.0 points per game on 25 percent shooting from the field and 13 percent three-point shooting in the last four games.
INDIANA HOOSIERS (13-11, 4-9)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Rob Phinisee 6-1 Fr. 6.4
G-Al Durham 6-4 So. 8.2
G-Romeo Langford 6-6 Fr. 17.5
F-Justin Smith 6-6 So. 8.6
F-Juwan Morgan 6-7 Jr. 15.4
Key reserves–Devonte Green, G, 6-3, Jr., 8.0 ppg; De’Ron Davis, F, 6-10, Jr., 4.4 ppg; Evan Fitzner, F, 6-10, Sr., 3.4 ppg; Damezi Anderson, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.8 ppg.
Coach: Archie Miller 168-89 (8th season)
Notable: Former Armstrong standout Race Thompson is a redshirt freshman forward for the Hoosiers. Thompson, who has missed most of the season recovering from a concussion, is the son of the Gophers’ all-time leading rusher Darrell Thompson … Indiana’s seven straight losses this season was the longest losing streak since 2011. The skid ended in a 79-75 win Feb. 2 at No. 6 Michigan State.
Fuller’s prediction (prediction record 15-10): Gophers 66, Indiana 63. The Gophers were robbed a Quadrant 1 win at Nebraska if you ask them after the controversial foul call on Coffey. Beating the Hoosiers won’t be as rewarding for the U’s NCAA tournament resume, but it will be the next best thing as a Quadrant 2 win. Indiana is 51st in the NET rankings as of Friday. The Gophers are right on the bubble or close to it on most NCAA tourney bracket projections, so they need to end their four-game losing streak Saturday. The timing couldn’t be better for two straight home games, including next week’s Quadrant 1 opportunity against Michigan.