Iowa at Gophers
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
THREE-POINT DEFENSE– When it comes to defending the three-point line, the Gophers prided themselves on being the Big Ten’s top team for most of the season. But in three straight losses, Minnesota’s opponents Wisconsin, Ohio State and Maryland shot a combined 25-for-49 from beyond the arc (51 percent). The Terrapins hit 11 three-pointers in an 85-78 win Jan. 28 in the Gophers’ last home game. Minnesota showed improvement in a win Saturday, holding Illinois to 4-for-22 from the three-point line. But the Illini are the second -worst team in the Big Ten from long distance. Iowa will be a bigger test Wednesday. The Hawkeyes shot 10-for-23 from three vs. Ohio State, 11-for-18 vs. Rutgers and 9-for-19 against Nebraska. That adds up to 30-for-60 from three-point range in three straight victories. Brady Ellingson ranks second in the league in three-point shooting percentage (53.8) in Big Ten games.
BATTLE OF TOP FROSH– Entering the season, Minnesota’s Amir Coffey and Iowa’s Tyler Cook were listed as two of the top freshmen in the Big Ten, right behind Michigan State’s Miles Bridges. Coffey and Cook haven’t disappointed. Coffey is averaging 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 47.1 percent from three-point range in 10 Big Ten games. Cook missed seven games after fracturing his index finger, but he’s averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in 11 conference games. The future is bright for both players. But they aren’t alone when it comes to freshmen contributing on their respective teams. Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl is averaging 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in the Big Ten. Minnesota’s Eric Curry is gaining confidence each week, while averaging 5.6 points and 5.7 rebounds this season.
SPRINGS TIME– The wins didn’t come right away, but the Gophers have been a better outside shooting team with Akeem Springs in the starting lineup. In the last four games, the 6-foot-4 senior guard is averaging 17 points on 46.4 percent shooting from three-point range (13-for-28). He’s now third on the team in scoring (11.0 points per game) in conference play. Springs replaced sophomore Dupree McBrayer in the starting lineup for the first time Jan. 21 against Wisconsin. He responded by sending the game into overtime before Minnesota fell 78-76. Gophers coach Richard Pitino trusts him to take the last shot, but is he now the team’s go-to guy?
Time: 8 P.M. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers by 6 1/2. Series: Minnesota leads 98-87; Iowa won last meeting 75-71 Feb. 14, 2016 in Iowa City. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTN2go Radio: 1500ESPN.
MINNESOTA (16-7, 4-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 14.0
G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.2
G-Akeem Springs 6-4 Sr. 10.0
F-Jordan Murphy 6-6 So. 9.4
C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 8.8
Key reserves– Dupree McBrayer, G, 6-5, So., 11.0 ppg; Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 5.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 85-72 (5th season)
Notable: Gophers fans want to forget the last game against Iowa at home in 2015. The Hawkeyes won 77-75 on a jumper from Jarrod Uthoff with 3.5 seconds left. Minnesota appeared to tie the score when DeAndre Mathieu drove full court and made a layup at the buzzer. But the shot was waved off after a review, sealing a 0-5 start to the Big Ten. That was the last time Pitino had a team on the NCAA tournament radar. But the Gophers squandered an opportunity with a poor conference start. Iowa will be looking to hurt those NCAA tournament chances for its border rival again Wednesday.
IOWA (14-10, 6-5)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Jordan Bohannon 6-0 Fr. 9.4
G-Isaiah Moss 6-5 RS-Fr. 6.7
G/F-Peter Jok 6-6 Sr. 20.6
F-Ahmad Wagner 6-7 So. 5.1
F-Tyler Cook 6-9 11.9
Key reserves– Cordell Pemsl, F, 6-8, Fr., 9.1 ppg; Dom Uhl, F, 6-9, Jr., 4.7 ppg; Nicholas Baer, F, 6-7, So., 6.7 ppg; Ryan Kriener, F, 6-9, Fr., 4.0 ppg; Brady Ellingson, G, 6-4, So., 5.4 ppg; Christian Williams, G/F, 6-5, So., 2.5 ppg.
Coach: Fran McCaffery 383-273 (21st season)
Notable: Senior Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten in scoring, does offseason workouts with professional trainer and youth pastor Chauncee Hollingsworth, who lives in Minneapolis. Hollingsworth also trained current Gophers guard Nate Mason and former U standouts Andre Hollins and Vincent Grier.
Fuller’s prediction (20-3 picks record): Gophers 81, Iowa 69. The Gophers are feeling confident again after coming up with an important win Saturday at Illinois to snap a five-game losing streak. They were so close to breaking through in close losses to Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Maryland. Minnesota’s offense struggled against Illinois (37.5 percent). But Pitino was encouraged by his team’s defensive effort (Illini shot 38 percent). With Reggie Lynch providing an inside scoring presence, look for Akeem Springs, Nate Mason and Amir Coffey to have success shooting the long ball. The Gophers are due for a big offensive performance at home. Why not against the Hawkeyes, who rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (78.1 points allowed per game)?