GOPHERS at NEBRASKA
Three things to watch:
DEFENSIVE IDENTITY – Through the first five games of the season, the Gophers fell in love with scoring the ball. They averaged 95.4 points during that span, which was the highest in program history to open the season. That included reaching the century mark against Niagara (107-81) and Alabama A&M (100-57). Minnesota still leads the Big Ten in scoring offense with 89.4 points, but that is not the identity that won 24 games last season and reached the first NCAA tournament for Richard Pitino. Pitino’s team averaged just 75.2 points last season, but it was one of the top teams in the country in defensive efficiency. It’s great to be able to put points on the scoreboard, but the Gophers can’t rely on outscoring teams, especially as the competition gets tougher. Miami (Fla.) shot 56 percent inside the arc and hit 10 three-pointers in Minnesota’s only loss this season last week. Junior guard Dupree McBrayer, who missed the Miami game with a leg injection, was back in the lineup Sunday against Rutgers and provided a huge lift defensively with two steals and two blocks. Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy make it tough on opponents in the paint (averaging six blocks combined), but they can’t allow opponents to get too many second-chance opportunities. Rutgers had 17 offensive rebounds Sunday, but only three in the second half.
HACK-A-MURPH – When will Jordan Murphy’s double-double streak end? It’s nine games and counting now. Seems like the only thing that can keep Murphy from scoring 10-plus points and grabbing at least 10 rebounds a game is Murphy. Opponents can’t box him out, so they’re trying to be physical with him. Pushing, shoving, grabbing. Miami got away with actually throwing Murphy to the floor without a foul in last week’s loss. He was definitely frustrated at the no call. Expect a lot more Hack-a-Murph moving forward, especially in Big Ten play. Rutgers had big bodies to throw at Minnesota’s 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior All-American candidate. He had trouble finishing going 3-for-13 from the field, but Murphy did capitalize at the foul line (12-for-14). Murphy ranks first in the Big Ten and seventh nationally in free throws attempted (74) through nine games. One of the biggest areas of improvement in his game from last season is free throw percentage up from 61.5 to 74.3 percent this year. Murphy also leads the nation with 48 offensive rebounds. Nebraska is the worst team in the Big Ten and ranked 321 out of 351 Division I teams in defensive rebounding percentage (64.0).
TRANSFER OF POWER – Where would the Gophers be without Lynch? He’s arguably the most important Division I transfer in the country to his team leading the nation in blocks (4.8). The 6-10 Edina native has improved his scoring (11.9) and rebounding (8.6) this season. His jump in production this year has basically been from limiting fouls and being on the floor longer. Lynch’s minutes are up from 23 to 27 minutes per game. He’s played 30 minutes or more in four straight games leading into Tuesday, only once picking up more than three fouls in that span. Nebraska is pretty much Transfer U. Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles’ two best players James Palmer Jr. (Miami) and Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) arrived from other programs. Five Nebraska players total are Division I transfers, including Anton Gill (Louisville) and Duby Okeke (Florida Atlantic). Palmer, Copeland and Gill combine to average 37 points per game. The 6-9, 220-pound Copeland is a former four-star recruit who scored 30 points against North Dakota this year.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena. Line: Minnesota by 8.5 points. Series: Minnesota leads 51-15. Minnesota won last meeting 88-73 at home on March 2, 2017. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.2
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 9.0
G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 13.4
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 21.0
C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 11.9
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 8.4 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.2 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.2 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 2.7 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 4.0 ppg
Coach: Richard Pitino 101-76 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers have lost four straight games at Nebraska since a 69-61 victory on Feb. 5, 2012. Pitino is 0-3 in Lincoln, including an 84-59 blowout loss in his last game there in 2016. That 25-point loss against the Cornhuskers was the worst defeat ever in the series for Minnesota.
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Glynn Watson 6-0 Jr. 12.9
G – James Palmer Jr. 6-6 Jr. 14.3
G – Evan Taylor 6-5 Sr. 9.6
F – Isaac Copeland 6-9 Jr. 13.0
C – Jordy Tshimanga 6-11 So. 3.2
Key reserves– Anton Gill, G, 6-3, Sr., 10.6 ppg; Isaiah Roby, F, 6-8, So., 6.8 ppg; Jack McVeigh, F, 6-8, Jr., 2.7 ppg; Thomas Allen, G, 6-1, Fr., 2.9 ppg; Duby Okeke, F/C, 6-8, Sr., 0.8 ppg
Coach: Tim Miles 364-309 (24th season)
Notable: Nebraska brought in several transfers, but Miles also lost even more talent to transfer in the last couple seasons. Before last season, Cornhuskers leading scorer and senior wing Andrew White left to play his final year at Syracuse. Last season, Ed Morrow, Michael Jacobson and Nick Fuller transferred out. Morrow (Marquette) and Jacobson (Iowa State) were starters.
Fuller’s prediction (8-1 picks record): Gophers 85, Nebraska 77. The Gophers haven’t won at Nebraska in five years, but that drought will end Tuesday night. Five Minnesota players remain from the team that suffered a 25-point loss in Lincoln in 2015-16, including starters McBrayer, Murphy and Mason. Seems like a good time for the three Ms to get revenge, considering the Gophers have their best team in Pitino’s five seasons with the program. Murphy should have a monster game on the glass. Why? Because that's what he does (second in the NCAA with 12.9 per game). But he’s also facing an opponent with significant rebounding issues to say the least. McBrayer’s return should give Minnesota more scoring off the bench with Isaiah Washington moving back to his previous role as backup point guard. Washington, fellow freshman Jamir Harris and junior Davonte Fitzgerald will be playing their first Big Ten road game. It would be best if Pitino didn’t have to rely on them too much Tuesday.