GOPHERS at Penn State
Three things to watch:
MURPHY’S MORTAL – The Gophers need Jordan Murphy to turn superhuman again in a big way after his back-to-back games without a double-double for the first time since last year. Murphy’s double-double streak of 17 straight games to start the season almost seems like a distant memory after he struggled in blowout losses to Northwestern (eight points and two rebounds) and Purdue (10 points and four rebounds). The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 13.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting from the field in six Big Ten games. His shooting is disturbingly low considering he takes most of his shots inside the arc (only 2-for-7 from three-point range). Murphy’s effective field goal percentage (39.1) is 44th among Big Ten players this year, near the bottom for starting posts in the league. He’s still averaging 17.9 points and 11.7 rebounds overall, while shooting 73.6 percent from the foul line. Opposing teams are making his life even more difficult without suspended center Reggie Lynch to worry about in the paint. But Murphy can help himself by getting free throws more often. In the last two games, Murphy is only 5-for-7 at the charity stripe combined. He was 12-for-17 in the previous two games against Indiana and Illinois combined. He also shot 12-for-14 at the line in the Rutgers win on Dec. 3. Murphy needs to somehow unleash his inner beast again and do what he does best – crash the offensive boards to get buckets. He only has two, TWO offensive rebounds combined in losses to Northwestern and Purdue. But Murphy still leads the nation in total offensive rebounds (86).
THREE-GUARD LINEUP – Will Richard Pitino finally do what he seemed hesitant to and go with a three-guard starting lineup of Nate Mason, Isaiah Washington and Dupree McBrayer on Monday? It didn’t make sense when Amir Coffey was healthy, but he’s out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury. What do the Gophers have to lose at this point if it doesn’t work now? A smaller lineup leaves Minnesota vulnerable rebounding. But it takes advantage of the speed of Minnesota’s guards to play an even more up-tempo style. Pitino made a similar move when the Gophers were going through a losing streak two years ago. He played Mason, McBrayer and Kevin Dorsey together. The Gophers made teams adjust to their new look and seemed to be more competitive. Washington replacing Hurt as a starter might actually help Hurt, because he could get more shooting opportunities off the bench. Washington would also spend some time at the shooting guard spot to make use of his playmaking ability.
PENN STATE’S SUPER SOPHS– The Gophers had a strong 2016 recruiting class with Coffey, Hurt and Eric Curry, but both Coffey and Curry are sidelined with injuries right now. Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick was ranked 26th nationally. Carr and Stevens are now leading the Nittany Lions in scoring at 18.8 points and 15.9 points, respectively. Carr hit a game-winning jumper Friday to escape with a home win against Nebraska. Stevens is averaging 25.3 points on 63.5 percent from the field in his last three games, which included a career-high 30 points against Northwestern. Big man Mike Watkins wasn’t part of the 2016 class, but he’s one of Penn State’s super sophomores after redshirting his first year. The 6-9, 254-pound Watkins is on a double-double streak of four straight games and averaging 16.3 points and 15.3 rebounds in that stretch. Watkins also leads the Big Ten in rebounding over Murphy in league play (12.7 to 10.2).
Time: 6 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Bryce Jordan Center. Line: Penn State by 7.5. Series: Minnesota leads 25-10. Last meeting Minnesota won 81-71 at Williams Arena on Feb. 25, 2017. TV: Big Ten Network Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (13-6, 2-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.2
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 9.5
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 3.1
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.9
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.6 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.1 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.1 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.3 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 106-81 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers 34-point loss Saturday against Purdue (now No. 3 in the country up from No. 5) is the worst home loss in Williams Arena history. The media guide incorrectly states that a 39-point loss (91-50) to No. 1 UCLA (led by John Wooden and Lew Alcindor) is the worst home loss from back on December 20, 1968. But that game was actually played in Los Angeles, according to newspapers from that date. That’s not a record you want on your resume if you’re Pitino, but bouncing back with a win Monday at Penn State could help his team move on from that embarrassing game a little.
PENN STATE (13-6, 3-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Shep Garner 6-1 Sr. 9.8
G – Jamari Wheeler 6-1 Fr. 3.3
G – Tony Carr 6-5 So. 18.8
F – Lamar Stevens 6-7 So. 15.9
C – Mike Watkins 6-8 So. 13.2
Key reserves– Nazeer Bostick, F, 6-7, So., 5.4 ppg; Satchel Pierce, C, 7-0, Jr., 2.2 ppg; Julian Moore, C, 6-10, Sr., 1.7 ppg.
Coach: Pat Chambers 142-143 (8th season)
Notable: The Nittany Lions will be without junior guard Josh Reaves for academic reasons Monday, according to college hoops insider Jon Rothstein. Reaves averages 10.6 points per game ... Penn State has won three straight games against the Gophers at home, including 86-77 last season … Stevens ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring with 19.5 points per game. He also ranks first in field goals made (48) in league play through Sunday’s games … Penn State ranks 36th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy.
Fuller’s prediction (16-3 picks record): Penn State 78, Gophers 70. When will the Gophers get their next win in the Big Ten? A three-game losing streak doesn’t seem like the end of the world, but losses to Northwestern and Purdue by a combined 57 points in the last two games certainly qualifies as panic time. Losing impact players Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey would be devastating to any team, but the Gophers are having trouble just being competitive. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing happened two years ago during the 8-23 season in 2015-16. Only it was three players lost (Mason, McBrayer and Dorsey were suspended) instead of two in the last four games. Three straight Big Ten games away from home (hasn’t happened since 2002) for the Gophers will make it difficult to end the slide. But Minnesota could have a shot Monday if Murphy and Mason play at an All-Big Ten level.