GOPHERS at Indiana
Three things to watch:
MIGHTY MASON – We’ve seen this narrative before: All-Big Ten guard returns for the Gophers with high expectations for himself and the team only to end his career in disappointment. Before Nate Mason there was Andre Hollins. Hollins earned all-conference honors his sophomore season and made the NCAA tourney. Hollins had a memorable career, but he wasn’t able to substantially build off the early success individually and as a team. Mason was an All-Big Ten first team guard and got to the Big Dance last season. His senior year hasn’t gone the way anyone expected for the Gophers team-wise with six straight losses and a 3-10 Big Ten record entering Friday’s game at Indiana. But Mason isn’t going out without a fight. His 34-point performance in Tuesday’s 91-85 loss against Nebraska was the most points scored by a Gophers player at home in a Big Ten game since Terrance Simmons had 34 in 2001. He has four games this season with 25 points or more, including three in the past seven games. Mason might not make it back to the NCAA tourney, but he’s putting up career-best numbers in scoring (16.4), three-point shooting (41.4) and ranks 11th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2). In five career games against Indiana, Mason is averaging 16.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds.
JORDAN VS. JUWAN – Friday will be a battle between two of the best undersized centers in the Big Ten. Junior Juwan Morgan has been manning the middle for Indiana at 6-foot-7 since 6-10 De’Ron Davis was lost for the season with an Achilles injury just before the last game against Minnesota on Jan. 6. Morgan had 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in a 75-71 Hoosiers victory in Minneapolis that night. Murphy had 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals against Morgan. But the Gophers’ 6-7 junior committed four turnovers and shot just 5-for-14 from the floor. Both players are much improved from last season. Morgan has the highest scoring jump of any Big Ten player from last year from 7.7 to 16.8 points (plus-9.1), while Murphy ranks fifth currently from 11.3 to 17.6 (plus-6.3). Morgan and Murphy are similar in height and length. But Murphy is 20 pounds heavier and a better rebounder (leads Big Ten with 11.7). Morgan’s a better defender and his shooting range extends to the three-point line. Now that the Gophers appear to be sticking with a small-ball starting lineup, we can really see Murphy and Morgan go head-to-head Friday in Bloomington. Should be fun to watch.
FREE THROW SHOOTING – The Gophers have attempted the most free throws (589) of any Big Ten team this season and is shooting 70.3 percent overall, but that accuracy dropped 10 percentage points during the current losing streak. Minnesota is shooting just 60 percent from the foul line (54-for-90) in the last five games, which includes 10 misses vs. Ohio State, seven misses vs. Iowa and seven misses vs. Michigan. Even going 9-for-15 at the charity stripe vs. Nebraska was factor in the end when the final margin was just six. Murphy in particular has struggled recently knocking down free throws. He’s 7-for-15 in the last three games, but surprisingly had zero free throw attempts Tuesday against Nebraska. That was the first time Murphy failed to get to the foul line in a game since a loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 21 last season. What’s weird is the only time in Murphy’s career that he’s not shot a free throw in 34 minutes or more was also in a loss against Wisconsin in his freshman year.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Friday. Where: Assembly Hall. Line: Indiana by 7.5. Series: Indiana leads 94-66. Last meeting Indiana won 75-71 in Minneapolis on Jan. 6, 2018. TV: FS1 Online/Live video: FoxSports app Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM
MINNESOTA (14-12, 3-10)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 16.4
G – Isaiah Washington 6-1 Fr. 7.8
F – Michael Hurt 6-7 So. 2.9
F – Davonte Fitzgerald 6-8 Jr. 3.7
F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 17.5
Reserves– Jamir Harris, G, 6-2, Fr., 3.7 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.7 ppg; Gaston Diedhiou, F/C, 6-10, Sr., 2.1 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 107-87 (6th season)
Notable: The Gophers are shooting 41.4 percent (251-for-606) from the field, 35.1 percent from three-point range (71-for-202) and 44.6 percent (180-for-404) on two-point field goals in the 10 games without suspended center Reggie Lynch. They’re 1-9 in those games … Junior guard Dupree McBrayer (9.5 ppg) has scored just 13 points combined on 4-for-19 shooting from the field and 2-for-10 from the three-point line in his last three games. McBrayer has been hampered by a lower left leg injury and is out for Friday’s game at Indiana after sitting out the second half Tuesday against Nebraska. Sophomore guard Amir Coffey (14.0 ppg) will also miss his eighth game this season and fourth straight Friday with a right shoulder injury. This will be the first time both Coffey and McBrayer are out of the starting lineup since Dec. 23 against Florida Atlantic. Minnesota has played every Big Ten game the last two seasons with at least McBrayer or Coffey. Lynch’s absence means Pitino is down three original starters.
INDIANA (13-12, 6-7)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Devonte Green 6-3 So. 7.4
G – Robert Johnson 6-3 Sr. 13.4
F – Freddie McSwain Jr. 6-6 Sr. 3.8
F – Zach McRoberts 6-6 So. 2.9
F – Juwan Morgan 6-7 Jr. 16.8
Key reserves– Josh Newkirk, G, 6-1, Sr., 7.3 ppg; Collin Hartman, F, 6-9, Sr., 5.6 ppg; Justin Smith, F, 6-6, Fr., 5.1 ppg; Al Durham, G, 6-3, Fr., 4.4 ppg;
Coach: Archie Miller 152-75 (7th season)
Notable: The Hoosiers will try to pressure the shorthanded Gophers on Friday to force them to make mistakes. Indiana ranks second in the Big Ten in turnover margin (plus-2.8) and steals (6.6). The six Big Ten victories this season have come with a plus-25 turnover margin … Robert Johnson had a career-high 28 points and Justin Smith had a career-best 20 points in IU’s win at Minnesota a month ago. That was also Smith’s first career start.
Fuller’s prediction (20-6 picks record): Indiana 73, Gophers 67. The Gophers haven’t won in Bloomington since Jan. 12, 2012. Minnesota faced adversity then with Trevor Mbakwe suffering a season-ending knee injury earlier in the season. The Gophers came into that matchup at Assembly Hall on a four-game losing streak, but they ended the slide temporarily with a 77-74 win over No. 7 Indiana with Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. That was one of the biggest upsets in the Big Ten all year. Tubby Smith’s team eventually collapsed again with six straight losses before the Big Ten tournament. But they bounced back again to reach the NIT Final Four. The U has had losing streaks of five games or more in each of the last four seasons under Pitino. A losing record in the Big Ten is inevitable. But can Pitino’s team pull off some upsets in the last five regular-season games to make itself NIT worthy? The Gophers still have to play Michigan State and on the road vs. Wisconsin and Purdue. Winning tonight isn’t that out of the question. But like Pitino and his players say, they would have to play a perfect game. Tough task.