GOPHERS at Iowa
Three things to watch:
BLAMING OFFICIALS – Among the reasons the Gophers have failed to live up to expectations this season are injuries and off-court issues. Somewhere on that list is probably getting robbed in a few games by poor officiating if players could speak honestly. A few moments during Tuesday’s 77-69 loss to Northwestern were an example of how the Gophers let their frustration with some missed calls affect their play. In the second half, Amir Coffey was pushed on a drive to the basket and collided with another Northwestern player. No call. Coffey was so upset that he shoved Aaron Falzon in the back on the ensuing possession and whistled for a flagrant foul. Richard Pitino ran onto the floor to calm Coffey down to keep him from picking up another technical foul (like Nate Mason did getting ejected against Alabama earlier this season). Later in the game, Mason was shoved on a layup attempt that was ignored by the officials. He jawed at the referee near the play instead of getting back on defense, resulting in a Bryant McIntosh basket. Jordan Murphy gets an arm bar in his back and pushed by opposing defenses on every post up down low, which gets mostly unnoticed. If anyone had reason to gripe it was Jamir Harris after being slapped in the face on a layup in transition in the first half with no foul called. But Pitino told his team after the game that none of them were in the NBA and needed to stop talking to the refs. He said officials might be labeling certain Gophers players as trying too hard to get foul calls instead of trying to make the shot. They won't get those calls. Pitino knows he would get disciplined by the Big Ten if he criticized officials, so he avoids saying how he really feels. It’s obvious some opponents are getting away with a lot of physical play and hacking against the Gophers, but Pitino wanst them to play through it.
MURPHY’S TOUCHES – Everyone knows the Gophers need Jordan Murphy to have a significant impact to win games, but sometimes even his own teammates seem to forget that fact. On two of the first three possessions of last Tuesday’s game against Northwestern, Murphy received the ball in the post and dunked on Northwestern, including on a baseline spin move that ended with a two-handed rim rattler. It looked to be a big night for “High Motor Murphy,” but he finished with just 10 points in 35 minutes. Murphy didn’t score in the last 17 minutes, 11 seconds of the second half. Some of that was the Wildcats’ matchup zone. But Murphy also failed to even touch the ball in the final 15 possessions of the game. That’s right. He wasn’t in foul trouble. He wasn’t being timid. He was mostly ignored. Coffey, Dupree McBrayer, Davonte Fitzgerald, Nate Mason and Jamir Harris all contributed to shooting 5-for-13 from the field during the last 8 1/2 minutes of the game. Minnesota went from a seven-point lead on Murphy’s last points to being outscored 38-23 to finish the game. Without Reggie Lynch, Murphy is the Gophers’ only scoring presence inside. He faces constant double teams each night, but is still capable of bullying his way for buckets. Last season, Murphy had 25 points and 19 rebounds in a double-overtime win against Iowa at home. Pitino even said Monday that the Gophers need to get him more touches: “I thought we missed him a couple times in the post. They were so physical and he’s playing at the five. They got big five men, so that’s tough. He’s playing the five, so at 6-5, 6-6 that’s hard for him to do.”
CONTAINING COOK – If you had to rank the top dunkers in the Big Ten, Iowa sophomore forward Tyler Cook would have to be near the top. Cook has 45 dunks in 23 games this season, which averages to about two slams per game. Every now and then, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound bruiser breaks out in a “Rim Shaker” jam session. Cue the music to the basketball version of that popular 1990s rap song from Wreckx ‘N Effect. Cook had a career-high six dunks against Drake this season. His 24-point performance against Nebraska on Saturday included five slams. Lynch’s absence means the loss of the Big Ten’s top rim protector. The Gophers went from one of the top blocking teams in the nation to near the bottom of the conference. In the last six games, Minnesota is averaging just 2.2 blocks per game, which would rank 13th in Big Ten play. The best way to stop Cook isn’t to meet him at the rim and get posterized. The Gophers need to knock the ball out of his hands once he brings it down. He leads Iowa with 2.4 turnovers per game and a turnover rate of 19.1 percent, near the highest among starting post players in the conference. Last season, Minnesota held Cook to five points and three rebounds in 21 minutes. It helped to get 10 blocks combined from Lynch and Murphy.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Tuesday. Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Line: Iowa by 4.5. Series: Minnesota leads 99-87. Last meeting Minnesota won 101-89 in double overtime at Williams Arena on Feb. 8, 2017. TV: BTN Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-9, 3-7)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.8
G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 10.3
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.7
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.6
C – Bakary Konate 6-11 Sr. 1.6
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 6.6 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 3.9 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 3.1 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-84 (6th season)
Notable: Mason is averaging 18.8 points in his last four games, which included his second 25-point performance during that stretch in last week’s loss against Northwestern. The senior point guard is shooting a career-best 41.2 percent from three-point range this season, but he’s only shooting 39.3 percent from inside the arc … The Gophers are shooting 39.1 percent (160-for-409) in the seven games without suspended center Reggie Lynch, including 41.3 percent (111-for-269) on two-point field goals. Outside shooting isn’t the Gophers’ strength, but the numbers show they rely too much on jump shots. ... Starting guard Amir Coffey (right shoulder) and reserve center Gaston Diedhiou are sidelined for Tuesday's game.
IOWA (11-12, 2-8)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Jordan Bohannon 6-0 So. 13.7
G – Isaiah Moss 6-5 So. 11.0
F – Nicholas Baer 6-7 Jr. 6.1
F – Tyler Cook 6-9 So. 15.0
C – Luke Garza 6-11 Fr. 11.0
Key reserves– Jack Nunge, C, 6-11, Fr., 6.0 ppg; Cordell Pemsl, F, 6-8, So., 6.0 ppg; Maishe Dailey, G, 6-7, So., 5.2 ppg; Brady Ellingson, G, 6-4, Jr., 3.7 ppg; Ryan Kreiner, F, 6-9, So., 3.2 ppg; Ahmad Wagner, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.9 ppg
Coach: Fran McCaffery 148-113 (21st season)
Notable: Iowa has won 11 of the last 16 games against Minnesota in Iowa City, including four of the last five. The Gophers’ last victory on the road in the series was 64-59 on Feb. 12, 2015 … The Hawkeyes started the Big Ten season 0-5 for the first time since Fran McCaffery’s first season in 2010-11. Much of the struggles are blamed on youth (11 freshmen and sophomores on the roster). So Iowa reportedly gave McCaffery a two-year contract extension through 2023 in November.
Fuller’s prediction (17-6 picks record): Iowa 83, Gophers 73. Two of the most disappointing teams in the Big Ten collide Tuesday night in Iowa City. The difference between Minnesota and Iowa is that the Hawkeyes have been a disappointment basically at full strength. Meanwhile, the Gophers are just nowhere near the same team they were starting the season as a top-20 nationally-ranked squad. Iowa has talent that just inexperienced, but those young players are maturing. Just look at freshman center Luke Garza, who has scored 19 points twice and had two double-doubles (17 points and 16 rebounds in a win against Wisconsin) in the last five games. The 6-11, 235-pound Garza’s one of a plethora of big bodies Iowa can throw at the Gophers. This is absolutely the worst matchup for Minnesota, which is going with small ball now with 6-7 Murphy at center at times because of a lack of frontcourt depth.