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Three things to watch — Gophers vs. New Orleans

Starting lineup woes

The Gophers have the only starting lineup in the Big Ten with just one player averaging double figures this season. Dawson Garcia's talent alone (averaging a career-best 18.8 points) hasn't been enough to open games with a significant advantage.

In Sunday's 76-58 loss against San Francisco, the Gophers opened the game down 10-1 before they brought in some help off the bench. Garcia had 19 points on the night, but the rest of the starters (Elijah Hawkins, Braeden Carrington, Joshua Ola-Joseph, and Isaiah Ihnen) combined for just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting for the game.

That was the third straight game the Gophers trailed in the beginning of the first half, including in wins vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina Upstate.

Through the weekend's games, the Gophers' starters averaged 49.6 points per game combined, ranked 13th among Big Ten starting lineups (only Rutgers was worst with 48.9 points).

Time for a starting lineup change? After Thursday's game vs. New Orleans, the Gophers open early Big Ten play Sunday at Ohio State.

"I've told the guys our starting lineup is going to change," Gophers coach Ben Johnson said Wednesday. "I'm not saying for next game, but throughout the season. Some of it could be a matchup. Some of it could be personnel driven by the other team. It's not always this player played bad, so they're not going to start anymore."

There are starters who are struggling, though. After a scorching start from three-point range, Ihnen (zero points and zero rebounds vs. USF in 16 minutes) is shooting 0-for-10 from three in his last three games. Carrington (zero points vs. USF in 28 minutes) has 14 points combined in three games and is shooting 3-for-19 from three this season. Hawkins has 10 turnovers in his last three games (also 14 assists) and is shooting 1-for-8 from three during that stretch.

The five players with the most minutes vs. San Francisco were Hawkins, Mitchell, Carrington, Garcia, and Payne. Could that be a sign? Hmm.

Playing with more Payne

Watching Pharrel Payne play bully ball in several games this season made you wonder why he doesn't play more for the Gophers. The answer has been simple from Johnson: Payne's not ready.

A lingering foot injury caused Payne to miss the second game of the season. He was restricted to fewer than 20 minutes a game before having 15 points and six rebounds in a season-high 26 minutes Sunday against San Francisco.

Payne told the Star Tribune after the game that he feels like he's "definitely getting more comfortable on the court," and he's starting to make his mark. But Payne knows the minutes restriction is "for my own good."

Garcia needs consistent frontcourt help in Big Ten play. The Gophers could be keeping Payne as fresh as possible before the conference season starts. Genius move? Maybe or maybe not if he doesn't get enough reps to get comfortable with heavy minutes. He looked like a beast Sunday.

Free throw fancy

The Gophers are a much different team this season at the foul line. Night and day.

Last season, the Gophers were dead last in Division I in free-throw percentage (61.9%), but they've shown major improvement. They rank second in the Big Ten and 44th nationally (76.8%) in free-throw percentage through six games.

Hawkins is shooting 21-for-22 from the foul line this season, ranking first in the Big Ten at 95.5%.

In the opening win vs. Bethune-Cookman, the Gophers shot 27-for-35. The 27 free throws made were the most in a game for the Gophers since they made 34 free throws during the 2020-21 season against Saint Louis and UMKC, respectively.

Garcia, who shoots 35-for-41 on free throws this season, went 14-for-16 from the foul line against Bethune-Cookman, the most free throws by a Gophers player since Marcus Carr went 14-for-19 vs. Saint Louis on Dec. 12, 2020.


Time: 6 p.m. CT, Thursday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Gophers 11.5-point favorites. Series: The Gophers won the only previous meeting, 80-65 on Dec. 7, 2013. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: Big Ten plus. Radio: 103.5 FM.



Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Elijah Hawkins 5-11 Jr. 8.2

G – Braeden Carrington 6-4 So. 6.0

F – Joshua Ola-Joseph 6-7 So. 8.8

F – Isaiah Ihnen 6-9 Jr. 7.8

F – Dawson Garcia 6-11 Jr. 18.8

Key reserves – Cam Christie, G, 6-6, Fr., 9.2 ppg; Mike Mitchell Jr., G, 6-2, Jr. 8.5 ppg; Pharrel Payne, F, 6-9, So., 8.6 ppg; Parker Fox, F, 6-8, Sr., 3.0 ppg.

Coach: Ben Johnson 26-41 record (third season)

Notable: The Gophers are playing faster this season, but that pace has come at a cost. They're averaging 12.2 fast-break points compared to four points per game in transition last season. But they've become the most turnover prone team in the Big Ten at 14.7 per game, which included a season-high 18 turnovers Sunday … The San Francisco loss over the weekend was the U's largest margin of defeat (18 points) in nonconference vs. an opponent outside the power schools since falling at Cincinnati by 34 points in 1995. How about vs. an unranked opponent? The year prior when the U lost by 21 points to Texas Southern at home.


Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Jordan Johnson 6-1 Jr. 23.3

G – Khaleb Wilson-Rouse 6-2 Sr. 10.3

G – Mason Jones 6-4 So. 5.5

F – Tyson Jackson 6-9 Sr. 8.0

F – D'Ante Bell 6-9 Jr. 4.5

Key reserves – James Glisson III, F, 6-7, Sr., 4.3 ppg; Jamond Vincent, G, 6-4, Jr., 7.7 ppg; Omarion Henry, F, 6-7, So., 5.0 ppg; Carlos Hart, G, 6-6, Jr., 6.5 ppg; Jah Short, G, 6-3, Fr., 5.5 ppg.

Coach: Mark Slessinger 164-202 (13th season)

Notable: Last season, Jordan Johnson led NCAA Division I with 48.2% shooting from three-point range and hit a school-record 93 three-pointers. Johnson has scoring highs of 29 points vs. Central Arkansas and 31 points vs. Illinois-Chicago this year. He hit 6-for-12 threes in both games. In a win vs. Central Arkansas last Sunday, Johnson and Khaleb Wilson-Rouse combined for 51 points, 11 steals and nine threes … The Privateers rank sixth nationally in opponent turnovers per game (17.5). They forced 23 turnovers and recorded 16 steals in their last game.

Fuller's score prediction (4-2): Gophers 81, New Orleans 68.