Gophers men’s basketball at Northwestern

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

BIG THREE – The Gophers need more from their Big Three plain and simple, which I talked about in Thursday’s game story. Richard Pitino might be wearing them down a bit at the end of games with heavy minutes. Still, Minnesota doesn’t have a chance to stay in NCAA tournament contention Thursday at Northwestern without Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer leading the way. Murphy (14.2 points per game), Coffey (11.0) and McBrayer (6.1) are averaging 31.3 points per game combined in the last seven games (Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur scored 41 points together vs. Rutgers). Minnesota’s record during that stretch is a disappointing 1-6, including four road losses. Murphy had a few big games vs. Nebraska (19 points and 13 rebounds), Michigan (18 points and 15 rebounds) and Indiana (23 points and 11 rebounds), but he struggled with just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-7 shooting from the foul line in Sunday’s 68-64 loss at Rutgers. It would be the perfect time to prove he’s worthy of All-Big Ten first team honors with a big game on his 22nd birthday Thursday.  

SHOOTERS SHOOT – What will be the encore performance for freshman Gabe Kalscheur after his 20-point performance on 6-for-6 shooting from three-point range in last Sunday’s loss? Kalscheur was 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in the first half, but he was held in check in the second half. Why didn’t the Gophers free him up for a last-second three-pointer to tie the game late against the Scarlet Knights? Minnesota will have tough time scoring against Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone if it can’t hit outside shots. That means Kalscheur shooting to his heart’s delight. It wouldn’t hurt to have senior Brock Stull gunning off the bench as well. Stull, an Illinois native, has seen limited playing time, but he’s 9-for-18 from long distance this season. The Gophers lost their first game this season Sunday when making at least seven three-pointers in a game. That can’t happen again can it?

POINT GUARD PLAY – The Gophers and Wildcats have experienced inconsistencies all season offensively because of the lack of a true point guard to lead. Bryant McIntosh and Nate Mason spoiled both programs for four years, but it was a dose of harsh reality when the graduated. Neither Pitino nor Chris Collins was able to recruit their replacement. Isaiah Washington was supposed to be that guy for Minnesota. The flashy sophomore from Harlem had a couple double-digit assist performances in nonconference play, but he’s been abysmal shooting the ball from the field (30.2 percent) and from three-point range (20.5). Washington has trouble defensively as well, but the Gophers might not have another choice. Coffey is a talented and versatile scorer, but his play as gone downhill trying to be the floor leader with Big Ten opponents pressuring him to make decisions. Playing Washington more minutes could give Coffey a chance to concentrate on scoring and making plays. Northwestern has relied on Anthony Gaines to running the offense, but leading scorer and senior wing Vic Law often has the ball in his hands in critical situations.    

GAME INFO

Time: 8 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena. Line: Gophers 1.5-point underdog. Series: Minnesota leads the series 95-68, but Northwestern won the last meeting 77-69 on Jan. 23, 2018 in Minneapolis.TV: ESPN2. Online/Live video: WatchESPN Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (17-11, 7-10 in Big Ten)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG 

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 14.7

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.2

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.3

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.9

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 11.1

Reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, So., 3.9 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.3 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.5 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.7 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 0.9 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 125-103 (7th season)  

Notable: Sunday’s loss at Rutgers was Minnesota’s sixth loss in the last seven games. Richard Pitino is 1-8 in road games this season, including six straight losses away from home. The Gophers had halftime lead in four of those road losses, but Sunday was the first time this season they also lost (previously 14-0) when leading with five minutes left in the game … Center Daniel Oturu won his second Big Ten freshman of the week award Monday after averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds last week against Michigan and Rutgers. Oturu, who had 20 points and eight rebounds in his last game, leads all Big Ten freshmen in rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage.

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (12-15, 3-13) 

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Anthony Gaines 6-4 So. 6.7

G-Ryan Taylor 6-6 Sr. 10.6

F-Vic Law 6-7 Sr. 15.6

F-Dererk Pardon 6-8 Sr. 13.6

F-Barrett Benson 6-8 Jr. 2.3

Key reserves– A.J. Turner, F, 6-7, Jr., 8.2 ppg; Miller Kopp, F, 6-7, Fr., 4.1 ppg; Pete Nance, F, 6-10, Fr., 3.4 ppg; Ryan Green, G, 6-2, Fr., 1.6 ppg.

Coach: Chris Collins 100-92 (6th season)  

Notable: The Wildcats are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, which is the longest since a 10-game slide during Collins’ second season in 2014-15. Their last victory was 73-66 at home against Indiana on Jan. 22 … Law and Dererk Pardon combined for 45 points on 17-for-28 shooting in Northwestern’s 69-64 loss vs. Wisconsin at home last Saturday. It was the first time in their career Law and Pardon scored 20-plus points in the same game.

Fuller’s predictionGophers 75, Northwestern 71. The Gophers have lost seven of the last nine meetings vs. the Wildcats, which includes getting swept last season. The Wildcats, who are back in their newly renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena, won 83-60 at Allstate Arena last year. But that was with Minnesota shorthanded with injuries and a suspension. Pitino’s team is finally at full strength when playing Northwestern. The last time that happened Minnesota won in Evanston behind a strong performance from Coffey. Don’t be surprised if that happens again Thursday in a game with huge NCAA tournament implications.

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Weak bubble teams keep Gophers in NCAA picture despite defeats

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