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Rutgers at Gophers men’s basketball

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Rebounding battle – Two of the top rebounding teams in the Big Ten go head-to-head Saturday with Rutgers (13.9) and Minnesota (13.8) ranking 1-2 in the conference in offensive rebounds per game. The Gophers are better in rebounding margin at plus-6.2 for third in the league, while the Scarlet Knights are right behind at plus-5.2. It’s pretty simple for the Gophers when it comes to the battle on the boards. They are undefeated at 11-0 this season when outrebounding the opponent. And all three losses were when the opponent outrebounded Minnesota, including 39-28 in Tuesday’s 82-67 loss against Maryland at home. Last season, the Gophers were 2-12 when they were outrebounded. The Big Ten’s leading rebounder is Jordan Murphy (12.0 rpg), but he was held to just five boards (zero offensive) against Maryland. Still, freshman Daniel Oturu picked up his fifth double-double this season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Rutgers is playing without standout big man Eugene Omoruyi (knee). The Scarlet Knights still have a significant size advantage with six players 6-foot-9 or taller, including 7-footer Shaquille Doorson, 6-10 Isaa Thiam, 6-10 Myles Johnson and 6-9 Shaq Carter.

Fouls and free throws – Before free throws were a big issue in the loss to Maryland, the Gophers were struggling with foul trouble. Murphy picked up his third foul late in the second half making a careless mistake by chasing his missed free throw. Gabe Kalscheur and Dupree McBrayer had trouble keeping up with Terrapins point guard Anthony Cowan, who finished with 23 of his 27 points in the second half. Kalscheur and McBrayer both had four fouls, but they often were the victims of poor communication on screens. Rutgers' Geo Baker and Montez Mathis are another tough defensive assignment for the Gopher backcourt. Minnesota’s discipline defensively was much better during the six-game win streak before Tuesday. It almost goes without saying that the Gophers can’t win many Big Ten games missing 14 free throws (they did beat Santa Clara with 15 misses at the foul line). Richard Pitino said he’s not making a big deal about it, because his team is one of the best in the country at getting to the line. The Gophers have been great in that area since he arrived setting a school record in free throws made (607) and attempted (818) in his first season in 2013-14.

Early morning Coffey – How hot do you like your coffee in the morning? Pitino prefers to have his sizzling when it comes to Amir Coffey attacking early for Minnesota’s first morning game at the Barn this season. The 11:30 a.m. tipoff means Coffey and company will have to work even harder to bring the energy and intensity from the outset. Still leading the Big Ten in scoring in league games (22.0 ppg), Coffey was scoreless from the field until 55 seconds left in the first half of Tuesday’s loss to Maryland. He got his first basket in transition on a pass from Curry. Pitino told the 6-8 junior guard to be more aggressive in the second half – and Coffey answered with 11 of his team-high 16 points. Minnesota’s coaches want the former Hopkins star to be more assertive and look for his own shot to open games. The Gophers are 18-1 the last two seasons when he has three or more assists in a game (Tuesday was the first loss). But good things typically happen when Coffey is making plays for himself and others.

GAME INFO

Time: 11:30 a.m. CT, Saturday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 10-point favorites. Series: Gophers lead series 7-2, but they lost the last meeting 65-54 loss in the Big Ten tournament first round at Madison Square Garden in New York. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (12-3, 2-2 in the Big Ten)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.5

G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 10.8

G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.1

F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.5

C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.3

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 5.0 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 2.3 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 2.3 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 3.4 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 120-95 (7th season)

Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward/center Eric Curry, who missed last season with torn ligaments and meniscus in his left knee, was out for the first 12 games this season after knee surgery before the season. Curry made his season debut with four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes Dec. 30 against Mount St. Mary’s off the bench. He had two points and five rebounds in 22 minutes last week at Wisconsin, and also four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 23 minutes vs. Maryland. The 6-9 Memphis native averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game on the U’s NCAA tournament team in 2017. Curry started at center in the Oct. 20 scrimmage at Creighton, but he was sidelined again after an MRI revealed cartilage damage with his previously injured left knee swelling.

RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (8-6, 1-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G-Geo Baker 6-4 So. 13.2

G-Montez Mathis 6-4 Fr. 6.4

F-Ron Harper Jr. 6-6 Fr. 6.3

F-Shaq Carter 6-9 Jr. 5.1

C-Shaquille Doorson 7-0 Sr. 4.1

Key reserves–Peter Kiss, G, 6-5, So., 8.7 ppg; Isaa Thiam, F, 6-10, Jr., 5.0 ppg; Caleb McConnell, G, 6-6, Fr., 3.4 ppg; Myles Johnson, F, 6-10, Fr., 3.2 ppg.

Coach: Steve Pikiell 228-199 (14th season)

Notable: Rutgers leading scorer (14.6 ppg) and rebounder (7.5 rpg) Omoruyi dislocated his knee in Thursday’s upset over Ohio State. Omoroyui is out indefinitely, but he did return from a similar injury in two weeks last season. Pikiell decided not to play Peter Kiss against the Buckeyes, but he’s third on the team in scoring with 8.7 points per game.

Fuller’s prediction: Gophers 76, Rutgers 68. The Gophers need this victory a lot more than the Scarlet Knights. This isn’t to help boost Minnesota’s NCAA tournament resume, but it doesn’t look good if Pitino’s team loses another home game it is favored in. The Maryland loss was the U’s first defeat at the Barn this season. Bouncing back with a win Saturday would give the Gophers confidence going into an important game Wednesday at Illinois. Murphy should be able to break out of a two-game slump with Rutgers minus its frontcourt stud Omoruyi.