Ohio State vs. GOPHERS at Madison Square Garden
Three things to watch:
MURPHY VS. BATES-DIOP – Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop are both 6-foot-7 junior forwards and Big Ten player of the year candidates. Murphy had the early edge after leading the league in scoring and rebounding at midseason. His numbers dropped in conference play, but Murphy is still averaging 18.1 points and a league-best 12.1 rebounds. After watching his double-double streak end at 17 straight games in blowout losses to Northwestern (eight points and two rebounds) and Purdue (nine points and four rebounds), Murphy got back to his old ways with 22 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime win at Penn State on Monday and 19 points and 14 rebounds in a loss at Maryland on Thursday. Bates-Diop is the only other player besides Murphy this season with three Big Ten player of the week honors. He leads the conference now in scoring (21.4) and ranks third in rebounding (9.3) in league games. Bates-Diop’s most memorable performance so far was a 32-point game in a Jan. 7 upset at then-No. 1 Michigan State. He was held to his second fewest points this season in a win at Northwestern on Wednesday with 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting.
JELLY TIME? – Gophers coach Richard Pitino was asked after Thursday’s loss to Maryland why highly-touted freshman Isaiah Washington hasn’t played much lately. Washington, who is averaging a team-best 6.9 points off the bench this season, was scoreless for the first time in his career in back-to-back games where he played just nine minutes combined against Penn State and Maryland. Pitino said “He’s just got to learn and grow and continue to work at it through practice. If he can do that he’s going to get better. He certainly has the talent to do it.” Washington started twice this season but struggled on both occasions shooting 10-for-34 from the field combined against Miami (Fla.) and Harvard. He does have five double-figure scoring games this season, including a 14-point performance the last time he played in front of his home state fans in a bizarre 5-on-3 game victory Nov. 25 against Alabama in the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn. Fellow freshman guard Jamir Harris took a backseat to Washington for most of the season, but he has emerged to score 16 and 10 points in consecutive starts. Harris is a much better three-point shooter than Washington (41.7 to 18.2 percent).
PICKING UP THE D – It’s no surprise the Gophers are missing Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch, who has been suspended the last five games for an alleged sexual misconduct incident. But just how much Minnesota’s defense has dropped off since Lynch’s departure is a concern. Pitino’s team held five straight opponents to 39 percent shooting are below before Lynch missed his first game Jan. 6 against Indiana. The last five opponents for Minnesota have combined to shoot 47 percent, including Maryland’s 56 percent shooting Thursday.
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Madison Square Garden. Line: Ohio State by 9. Series: Ohio State leads 86-51. Last meeting Ohio State won 78-72 in Columbus on Jan. 25, 2017. TV: BTN Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-7, 3-5)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.6
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.3
G – Jamir Harris 6-2 Fr. 4.3
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 18.1
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.7
Key reserves– Amir Coffey, G, 6-8, So., 14.1 ppg; Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 6.9 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.3 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 3.0 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-82 (6th season)
Notable: Coffey is back after missing five games with a right shoulder injury. His return means the Gophers will be at full strength in the backcourt for the first time since a Jan. 3 win against Illinois at home. The Gophers are 10-0 this season when Coffey has three or more assists in a game.
OHIO STATE (16-4, 7-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – C.J. Jackson 6-1 Sr. 13.3
G – Andrew Dakich 6-3 Sr. 3.7
F – Jae’Sean Tate 6-4 Jr. 12.5
F – Keita Bates-Diop 6-7 Jr. 19.8
C – Kaleb Wesson 6-8 Fr. 11.1
Key reserves– Kam Williams, G, 6-2, Jr., 8.4 ppg; Micah Potter, F/C, 6-9, 4.4 ppg; Musa Jallow, F, 6-7, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Andre Wesson, G, 6-2, So., 2.3 ppg; Kyle Young, F, 6-5, Fr., 1.9 ppg.
Coach: Chris Holtmann 130-89 (7th season)
Notable: Bates-Diop is the first Ohio State player since Michael Redd in 1998 to score 25 points or more in three straight games. Bates-Diop had 27 points at Iowa, 32 points at Michigan State and 26 points vs. Maryland earlier this season.
Fuller’s prediction (17-4 picks record): Gophers 80, Ohio State 78. The return of Amir Coffey from injury made me switch my prediction at the last minute. Imagine what the Buckeyes were thinking when the news came out before Saturday’s game. Coffey is the biggest matchup problem for any opponent when it comes to the Gophers with his size and versatility. How much rust will Coffey have after missing five games? He typically can make an impact without scoring and by getting other players involved. So his presence should take pressure off Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer. Jamir Harris starting the last couple games will give him confidence as well moving forward.