LIU Brooklyn vs. Gophers

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

FRINK FACTOR– LIU Brooklyn senior forward Jerome Frink will be pretty familiar with Pitino on Wednesday night. Frink started his career as a freshman at Florida International in Pitino’s first season as a head coach in 2012-13. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound New Jersey native played two seasons at FIU before transferring closer to home. He saved his best season for last, averaging a career-best 17.3 points and 8.2 rebounds this year. The All-Northeast Conference preseason team selection scored a career-high 28 points in a win at Hartford on Nov. 30. Frink and Jordan Murphy are similar in size and ability. That should be the most intriguing matchup Wednesday night. 

FRONTCOURT TANDEM– The Gophers might have their best frontcourt tandem since they last made the NCAA tournament in 2013. Reggie Lynch and Murphy combined for 30 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks in Sunday’s win against Northern Illinois. It was the program’s first starting frontcourt double-double since Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III in 2010. Murphy is similar to Mbakwe as an athletic finisher and rebounder. But Lynch is a superior to Sampson as a game-changing shot blocker and physical inside presence. What will be their encore Wednesday against an undersized LIU Brooklyn team?

TIMELY DEFLECTIONS– Richard Pitino’s team tallied more deflections per game in his first two seasons than right now. But the Gophers are playing their best defense during his tenure so far this year, because they come up with timely stops on defense. One stat that Minnesota currently tracks is consecutive defensive stops, which have been high during the 10-1 start. You can count on the Gophers to go on a big run during every game. And almost always the defense fuels the surge.

GAME INFO

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: None. Series: Minnesota leads 2-0; last meeting was 70-54 victory at home in 2006. TV: None. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 1500ESPN.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (10-1)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Nate Mason 6-2 Jr. 12.7

G-Dupree McBrayer 6-5 So. 11.3

G-Amir Coffey 6-8 Fr. 12.4

F-Jordan Murphy 6-7 So. 9.9

C-Reggie Lynch 6-10 Jr. 9.4

Key reserves – Eric Curry, F/C, 6-9, Fr., 6.5 ppg; Akeem Springs, G, 6-4, Sr., 9.0 ppg; Ahmad Gilbert, F, 6-6, So., 2.4 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Jr., 2.5 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 79-66 (5th season)  

Notable: The Gophers are playing their second opponent from the Northeast Conference this season. They defeated Mount St. Mary’s 80-56 on Nov. 16 behind Murphy’s 18 points and 12 rebounds. LIU-Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s were both picked to finish fourth in the conference’s preseason poll. Minnesota is 8-0 all-time against the NEC.

LIU BROOKLYN (7-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Jashaun Agosto 5-11 Fr. 12.0

G-Iverson Fleming 6-1 Sr. 12.4

G-Raul Frias 6-1 So. 4.2

F-Nura Zanna 6-7 RS-Jr. 5.7

F-Jerome Frink 6-7 RS-Sr. 17.3

Key reserves–Julian Batts, G, 5-11, Fr, 4.8 ppg; Raiquan Clark, G-F, 6-6, So., 5.7 ppg; Ganlandou Cisse, F-C, 6-9, So., 2.3 ppg; Julius van Sauers, F/G, 6-8, So., 2.8 ppg  

Coach: Jack Perri 78-76 (5th season)  

Notable: Perri made history in his first season with the Blackbirds in 2012-13. He directed LIU Brooklyn to the NCAA tournament after winning the Northeast Conference tournament title. He earned the Joe B. Hall Award, given to the top first-year head coach in Division I. After a 20-14 record in Year 1, Perri won just 21 games the next two seasons combined before going 16-15 in 2015-16.

Fuller’s prediction (10-0 record)Gophers 86, LIU Brooklyn 68. The Gophers are so close to Big Ten play it will be easy to overlook their last two nonconference opponents in LIU Brooklyn and Arkansas State (Dec. 23). Beware. The Blackbirds upset St. John’s on Sunday. And Arkansas State beat Georgetown earlier in the season. Keeping an underdog mentality is huge for Pitino’s team. Minnesota doesn’t seem capable even on its worse night to lose Wednesday, especially with the frontcourt playing at a high level.