Purdue at GOPHERS
Three things to watch:
GIANT TEST – The tallest player in Gophers basketball history was 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer, who helped the program win a Big Ten title in 1982 and has his No. 45 hanging in the rafters at Williams Arena. On Saturday, Purdue has two centers just as towering in 7-3 freshman Matt Haarms and 7-2 senior Isaac Haas. Like Breuer, they aren’t just two stiffs. Haas is second on the team in scoring (14.8), rebounding (5.4) and blocks (1.2) per game. Haarms averages 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds, but also ranks fourth in the Big Ten and first on the Boilermakers in blocks per game (2.9). Haas is having a career-year with Big Ten player of the year Caleb Swanigan now playing in the NBA for the Portland Trailblazers. Purdue’s front court of Haas and Vincent Edwards, along with Haarms off the bench has made it tough on opponents to score in the paint. The Boilermakers rank second in the league in field goal percentage defense (37.9) and fifth nationally in two-point percentage defense (40.9). Playing without suspended center Reggie Lynch, Minnesota will try to match Purdue’s size with 6-11 Bakary Konate starting and 6-10 Gaston Diedhiou off the bench. But Konate played just one minute in last year’s 91-82 overtime win in West Lafayette, Ind. The Gophers instead played with Lynch (10 points, six rebounds and five blocks) and Eric Curry (10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks). But Curry is out for the season with a knee injury.
FOUL TROUBLE – Jordan Murphy played just six minutes in Wednesday’s 83-60 loss at Northwestern before he picked up two fouls. Just like that he went to the bench for the rest of the first half. By the time he returned, Minnesota was down by 20 points. Nate Mason, who was averaging 21 points in Big Ten play, had three fouls in the first half. Mason eventually fouled out with nine points on 2-for-10 shooting and four turnovers in 26 minutes. Murphy fouled out with 3:13 left in the second half with just eight points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. Mason had fouled out for only the second time in his career and not since a loss at Florida State in 2016-17. Murphy had fouled out five times in each of his first two seasons, but it was only the second time this season Wednesday. Mason’s fouls were out of frustration and uncharacteristic. But opponents are making an effort to attack Murphy, who can't afford careless fouls. Opposing big men are also trying to draw offensive charges on him, knowing the Gophers are very thin in the frontcourt without Lynch.
DUPREE ON A SPREE – The Gophers realized how much they missed Dupree McBrayer when they fell 86-81 against No. 10 Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 29. McBrayer lost nearly 20 pounds and was in the hospital getting treatment for a leg infection. The 6-foot-5 junior guard returned but wasn’t himself the next four games averaging just 6.3 points. McBrayer was dealing with an old injury in his opposite leg that caused him to miss two more games, but he got back on track after getting longer rest this time. In the last four games, the New York native is averaging 14.8 points in 35 minutes per game. McBrayer also ranks third in Big Ten games in steals (2.0). Sophomore Amir Coffey’s indefinite absence with a right shoulder injury means McBrayer’s production needs to increase even more. Scoring doesn’t seem to be a problem, but he needs to put up better numbers in rebounding (1.2) and three-point shooting (30 percent).
Time: 11 a.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Purdue by 8.5 points. Series: Purdue leads 92-78. Last meeting Minnesota won 91-82 in overtime at Purdue on Jan. 1, 2017. TV: ESPN2 Online/Live video: ESPNWatch Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (13-5, 2-3)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.6
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 9.9
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 3.1
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 18.3
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.5
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 7.4 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., 2.4 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 106-80 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers need Murphy to bounce back in a big way from his season-low eight-point, two-rebound performance Wednesday against Northwestern. Murphy’s double-double streak ended at 17 straight games, so he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining that mark. Now he needs to focus on becoming a more efficient scorer. Murphy’s averaging 14.2 points in six Big Ten games on 35.7 percent shooting from the field, worst among the Gophers’ starters. That number is astonishingly low considering he’s only taken six three-pointers. His effective field goal percentage (37.5) is 46th among Big Ten players this year, which obviously isn’t good.
PURDUE (16-2, 5-0)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – P.J. Thompson 5-10 Sr. 8.9
G – Dakota Mathias 6-4 Sr. 13.3
G – Carsen Edwards 6-1 So. 16.9
F – Vincent Edwards 6-8 Sr. 13.8
C – Isaac Haas 7-2 Sr. 14.8
Key reserves– Ryan Cline, G, 6-6, Jr., 4.3 ppg; Matt Haarms, C, 7-3, Fr., 5.6 ppg; Nojel Eastern, F, 6-6, Fr., 2.9 ppg; Grady Eifert, G, 6-6, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Jacquil Taylor, F, 6-10, Jr., 1.9 ppg.
Coach: Matt Painter 281-144 (13th season)
Notable: The Boilermakers are one of only six Division I basketball teams with four players averaging at least 13.0 points per game. They are shooting 55-for-118 (46.6 percent) from three-point range in their last five games, including 12-for-21 in a 70-69 win at Michigan on Tuesday. Purdue’s 18-game home winning streak started right after the overtime loss in Mackey Arena against Minnesota on New Year’s Day last year.
Fuller’s prediction (15-3 picks record): Purdue 87, Gophers 74. Normally, a matchup between two teams on such opposite ends of the confidence spectrum would result in a compete annihilation. That’s certainly possible Saturday, but I think the Gophers will come to play after the abysmal effort Wednesday against Northwestern. Mason and Murphy have something to prove, especially after combining for their worst performance of the season as a tandem. Even with big games from the Gophers’ top remaining guns, Purdue will have too much talent and size to overcome. Minnesota coach Richard Pitino’s best hope is that his players build up enough confidence to steal a victory at Penn State or Maryland the following two road games.