GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS AT PURDUE

FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:

Lineup changes needed?

Gophers coach Richard Pitino had nothing to worry about when his team played at home in the first 11 games. They went undefeated at the Barn to that point, including wins against Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. Scoring wasn't a big problem with the Gophers averaging 84.5 points to go 11-0 at home, but they looked like a completely different team last Saturday in a 63-49 loss against Maryland. The Terrapins held Minnesota to 30 percent shooting from the field, including 5-for-23 from three-point range. Marcus Carr had 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting, but the rest of his teammates were 6-for-32 on field goals.

Pitino goes into the first of back-to-back road games Saturday at Purdue having a team that lacked confidence outside of Carr offensively. No player other than the U's junior point guard attempted more than six shots, which hadn't happened all season. The Gophers are 0-4 on the road this season, so could this be a time to have a lineup change?

Carr's backcourt teammates Both Gach and Gabe Kalscheur had just two points on 0-for-10 shooting from the field against Maryland. If Pitino decided to shake things up to generate more offense than it would probably be inserting sophomore Tre' Williams or freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. into one of those guard spots. Gach and Kalscheur haven't been reliable offensively in Big Ten play, but they still would be key contributors if either came off the bench.

The 6-foot-5 Williams started four games last season, but his playing time dropped from 16.4 to 11.1 minutes per game this year. Mashburn, who had nine points and three assists in 23 minutes against Maryland, is averaging 5.1 points and 18 minutes per game in Big Ten play.

Defensive identity

The Gophers haven't been able to play consistent winning defense this season, but Pitino believes that should be his team's identity. For the fourth time in the last six seasons, Minnesota's defensive efficiency (30th nationally) is ahead of its offensive efficiency (43rd), according to KenPom.com.

In Pitino's first NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, the Gophers ranked 22nd nationally in defensive efficiency compared to 77th on offense. In 2019, Pitino reached the NCAA tourney for the second time with defensive efficiency ranked 48th compared to 52nd offensively.

The most impressive victory this season was when the Gophers beat Big-Ten leading Michigan 75-57 on Jan. 16, which came after forcing 20 turnovers and the Wolverines to 39 percent shooting from the field.

Pitino said his players got back to the offensive fundamentals in practice this week by working on catching, passing, driving and shot selection, but it's clear where the Gophers are stronger this season.

"We're much closer to being a really good defensive team than an offensive team," Pitino said he told his players. "Just embrace it."

Rebounding margin

The Gophers are worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-2.2). They won the battle of the boards for three straight games vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. But that wasn't enough to overcome being beaten on the glass by Illinois (minus-18), Iowa twice (minus-17 and minus-6), Michigan twice (minus-9 and minus-4) and Maryland (minus-8) most recently. Robbins leads the Gophers (6.9) in rebounding this season and picked up his first double-double game this year with 27 points and 14 rebounds against the Buckeyes. But this isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounding. They were good for 10-12 rebounds every night. Now it has to be more of a team effort.

The Gophers will need their frontcourt and backcourt to help Robbins, but they have a chance to own the glass Saturday against Purdue. The Boilermakers rank third in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (plus-6.1). Junior center Trevion Williams ranks second in the Big Ten with 9.6 rebounds, including three double-doubles in his last four games.

Free-throw fancy

The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten, but they dropped from first to fourth nationally in free throws made per game (19.1) after making only 17 free throws in two games combined before upsetting Michigan at home. This season is still a major upgrade from last year when they ranked 285th nationally with 11.5 foul shots made per game. They're getting to the line nearly twice as often and converting 75.3 percent, ranked fifth overall in the Big Ten. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot at the line isn't always detrimental. They were 5-14 when outshot by their opponent on free throws last season. They're 2-4 in the same situation this season. But the Gophers only shot 6-for-6 from the line in the road loss against the Wolverines, which was obviously too far from their average to make up the difference.

Carr, who shoots 76.8 percent on free throws, is behind only Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis for the most made free throws (86 to 96) among Big Ten players this season. Carr was just 2-for-2 on free throws against Michigan on the road and didn't attempt a free throw at Iowa. The Big Ten's fourth leading scorer attacking the basket and getting to the foul line is critical to Minnesota's offense.

GAME INFO

Time:6:30 p.m. CT, Saturday.Where:Mackey Arena.Line:Minnesota 2.5-point underdog.Series:Minnesota trails the series 105-85, including the last meeting an 83-78 overtime loss at Mackey Arena on Jan. 2, 2020.TV: Big Ten Network.Online/Live video: BTN-Plus.Radio:100.3 KFAN.

PROJECTED STARTERS

NO. 21 MINNESOTA GOPHERS(11-5, 4-5)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr.20.9

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 9.3

G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 9.3

F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 8.0

C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 13.3

Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, Sr., 3.6 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 5.1 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.4 ppg; Tre' Williams, G, 6-5, So., 3.1 ppg.

Coach:Richard Pitino 156-127 (9th season overall)

Notable: Western Michigan grad transfer Brandon Johnson missed the Dec. 10 win vs. UMKC with a left ankle injury, but he returned the next game in the Big Ten opener at Illinois. Johnson's breakout performance came soon after with a season-high 26 points on 8-for-9 shooting from three-point range in the overtime win vs. Iowa on Christmas Day. The Gophers were 17-for-43 from three, setting a team record for attempts from beyond the arc. Johnson's three-point percentage in that game was a team record and he tied the single-game record for threes made. The Chicago native is shooting 39.3% from three this season, but he hasn't been able to come close to duplicating that one record-setting performance from three. He shot 2-for-11 on threes in the seven games before Iowa. Johnson's shot 1-for-12 from long distance since playing the Hawkeyes. The Gophers shot 27-for-68 (39.7%) from three in back-to-back wins vs. St. Louis and Iowa, but they have shot 29.5% from deep this season, last in the Big Ten and 303rd nationally … Gophers junior Liam Robbins was named a top-10 finalist Friday for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award given to the best center in college basketball. Robbins is averaging 13.3 points, a team-best 6.9 rebounds and a Big Ten-leading 2.6 blocks. The 7-foot Drake transfer is looking to bounce back after foul trouble limited to six points and two rebounds in 22 minutes vs. Maryland.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (11-6, 6-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Eric Hunter Jr. 6-4 170 Jr. 10.3

G – Jaden Ivey 6-4 200 Fr. 7.6

G – Brandon Newman 6-5 195 R-Fr. 8.9

F – Mason Gillis 6-6 240 R-Fr. 4.9

F – Trevion Williams 6-10 265 Jr. 15.3

Key reserves– Isaiah Thompson, G, 6-1, So., 4.9 ppg; Zach Edey, C, 7-4, Fr., 7.9 ppg; Aaron Wheeler, F, 6-9, Jr., 3.7 ppg.

Coach: Mark Painter 373-185 (17th season)

Notable: The Boilermakers saw their four-game win streak end with a 70-53 loss Jan. 22 against Michigan. It was their first home loss this season, but they've also beaten Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana on the road. Last season, the Gophers fell in double overtime 83-78 at Purdue. Their last victory at Mackey Arena was 91-82 in overtime in 2017 … Williams (15.3 points per game) is a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award. The 6-10 junior has 12 straight games in double figures scoring ... Junior guard Sasha Stefanovic (11 points per game) is out for the second straight game Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 10-6):Purdue 72, Gophers 69.