Gophers men's hoops vs. North Dakota

FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:

Battle on the boards – One of the Gophers' biggest weaknesses of last season has started to rear its ugly head in only three games so far in 2020-21. Although the sample size is miniscule, Minnesota's difficulty keeping opponents off the offensive glass was a sizable problem in the last game. And it nearly cost them in Monday's 67-64 comeback win against Loyola Marymount. Marcus Carr's game-winning three-pointer kept the Gophers from suffering an upset that likely wouldn't have been as close if not for them being manhandled 43-30 on the boards, which included allowing 18 offensive rebounds. LMU tied the game on a three-point play after a putback with under a minute left. The Gophers gave up the most offensive rebounds in a game since Maryland grabbed 20 in a 74-73 win at the Barn on Feb. 26 last season. LMU also had the most offensive rebounds for a nonconference opponent since DePaul had 19 in a win against the Gophers at the Barn last November. Again, Richard Pitino's team was pretty fortunate to escape with the victory. In fact, the Gophers were 1-10 last season when outrebounded overall in the game. Their last win before Monday when outrebounded was coincidentally the last time Carr hit a game-winning shot with his three-pointer to beat Ohio State 62-59 on January 23 in Columbus. My guess is North Dakota doesn't have the horses inside to beat up Minnesota on the glass. But you can bet it'll be a tight one once that happens again.

Frontcourt foul trouble – Newcomers Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson are still wondering what it's like to play for the Gophers without being in foul trouble. Pitino hasn't seen what two of his top frontcourt players look like for long stretches because it isn't long before they had to sit on the bench. Against LMU on Monday, Robbins and Johnson fouled out for the first time. Robbins had five points, five rebounds and two turnovers in a season-high 22 minutes. Johnson had just two points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. It wasn't realistic to think the numbers they put up at Drake (Robbins' 14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpgand 2.9 bpg) and Western Michigan (Johnson's 15.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) would immediately translate directlywith a Big Ten team. But Robbins' minutes are down so far from 27.1 to 19.7 per game compared to last season. Johnson's minutes have seen a steeper decline from 31.1 to 17.3 per game compared to last season. Reserve junior forward Jarvis Omersa also fouled out Monday with four points and just one rebound in 10 minutes. The Gophers are 8-1 the last two seasons when Omersa grabs at least four rebounds in a game. Last season, the high-flying former Orono standout had a career-best 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench in a 79-56 win against North Dakota. The Gophers clearly weren't the same team on the glass and energy-wise without Omersa on the floor Monday against LMU.

Offensive balance – The Gophers are relying so heavily on Carr's offensive explosion and heroics to open the season that it'll be interesting to see what happens when he cools off from his hot start. The junior point guard's 29.7 points per game rank second in the NCAA behind only Iowa All-American Luka Garza (34 ppg). Efficiency was an issue last season, but Carr is shooting 54 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point range and 75 percent from the free throw line. His scoring is off the charts when you look at his production per 40 minutes compared to last season 34.6 to 16.7 points per game. You wonder how long Carr can keep up on this pace. And does it all continue to the detriment of others? Transfer Both Gach appears to be doing just fine averaging 13.7 points on 51 percent shooting. But fellow backcourt starter Gabe Kalscheur is averaging 11.3 points but shooting just 27 percent from the field (1-for-12 from three). Robbins has the potential to be a go-to inside scoring presence, but the offense often doesn't go through him in the post. Neither does Johnson get many opportunities. His offensive usage (percentage of plays used by a player on the floor) dropped from 26.8 to just 10.9 this season from Western Michigan to Minnesota. More offensive balance moving forward would be critical once Carr faces even tougher defenses in Big Ten play.

Minnesota connection – North Dakota has three Minnesota natives on its roster. Marshall native Mitchell Sueker transferred from Division II South Dakota School of Mines. The junior forward has teamed with Filip Rebraca to give the Fighting Hawks two versatile 6-foot-9 forwards in the frontcourt. Coming off his scoreless debut in UND's loss to Miami-Ohio, Sueker had 19 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday's 74-73 loss to Dixie State (Utah). Junior guard Ethan Igbanugo (Lakeville North) and freshman guard Tyree Ihenacho (Prior Lake) are also returning home. The 6-4 Ihenacho made his debut in the second game with nine points, a team-best eight rebounds and three assists as a starter in 33 minutes against Dixie State.

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Williams Arena.Line: Minnesota 21.5-point favorite.Series: Gophers lead the series 19-2, including the last meeting in a 79-56 win on Nov. 24, 2019 at Williams Arena.TV: Big Ten Network.Online/Live video: BTN2go.Radio: 100.3.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS(2-0)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr.29.7

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 11.3

G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 13.7

F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 4.7

C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 8.3

Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Sr., 4.7 ppg; Tre' Williams, G, 6-5, So., 3.5 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 3.3 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-6, Jr., 4.0 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.0 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 148-122 (9th season overall)

Notable: Eric Curry played his first game since the 2018-19 season in the Nov. 25 season opener, finishing with four points, three rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes. Curry, who started the first two games, bounced back from his second major knee injury after missing last season following a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in preseason practice. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native is the last remaining player from the U's first NCAA tournament team under Pitino in 2017 … Sophomore guard Tre' Williams and freshman guard David Mutaf were sidelined in the opener vs. Green Bay. But Williams played in the next two games against Loyola Marymount. Mutaf has not made his debut this season.

NORTH DAKOTA FIGHTING HAWKS (0-2)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Caleb Nero 6-2 So.

G – Tyree Ihenacho 6-4 Fr.

F – Seybian Sims 6-7 Jr.

F – Mitchell Sueker 6-9 Jr.

F – Filip Rebraca 6-9 Jr.

Key reserves – Ethan Igbanugo, G, 6-3, Jr. 6.0 ppg; Nate Shockey, G, 6-3, Fr., 2.5 ppg; Brady Danielson, F, 6-4, So., 2.5 ppg; Gertautas Urbonavicius, F, 6-7, So., 5.5 ppg.

Coach: Paul Sather 297-171 (17th season)

Notable: The Fighting Hawks, who were projected to finish sixth in the Summit League preseason poll this year, were 15-18 last season under first-year coach Paul Sather. The highlights of Sather's first season were winning at Nebraska and advancing to the program's first Summit League tournament championship game, losing to rival North Dakota State.

Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 3-0): Gophers 82, North Dakota 62.