Daniel Oturu is looking forward to battling a dominant big man every night in the Big Ten.
The Gophers' 6-10, 245-pound sophomore is gaining more national attention with his play each game. He's the only player in the nation averaging at least 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and shooting over 60% from the field.
Any other season, those are Big Ten Player of the Year-caliber numbers, but it just so happens that this could be the year of the big man in the Big Ten.
Robbie Hummel, a Big Ten Network analyst, ranks his top five Big Ten centers as Iowa's Luka Garza, Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson, Oturu, Michigan State's Xavier Tillman and Michigan's Jon Teske.
"That list doesn't do the league justice," Hummel said. "It's an incredibly deep league at the center position this season."
In the first nine games, Oturu has four 20-point performances and five double-doubles for the Gophers (4-5), who will need another big game from him to have a chance to compete in Sunday's home Big Ten opener vs. No. 3 Ohio State.
In Monday's 72-52 conference-opening loss at Iowa, Oturu had 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against the 6-11, 260-pound Garza, who had 44 points vs. Michigan last week.
Next up for the Gophers is Sunday's battle against the Buckeyes and Wesson, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds in a 32-point win last week over Penn State.
"Those type of players obviously brings out the competitive side in you," Oturu said. "Got to bring it."
Former All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy left some big shoes to fill as the U's all-time leading rebounder. Oturu and his size 15 shoes have been able to fill them, but it started with a conversation with coach Richard Pitino in the offseason about how he could raise his level of play.
"My main focus this year was working on the little things me and Coach talked about," Oturu said. "Working on setting better screens, rolling to the rim harder, running the floor better. Those things helped me get to my bread and butter. What I'm already good at."
Nine of the top 16 scorers in the league through Wednesday's games were power forwards or centers, including Garza and Oturu ranking 1-2 in points per game.
The Big Ten has three players averaging a double-double with Oturu, Illinois' Kofi Cockburn and Maryland's Jalen Smith. Garza and Tillman are close behind. No other high-major conference has more than one double-double guy.
Gaining 20 pounds this offseason prepared Oturu to be more ready physically for the tough Big Ten battles down low this year. A year ago, Oturu was playing as well as any freshman center in the league, but he got into foul trouble and was humbled when Wesson bullied him in a 20-point loss at Ohio State in the Big Ten opener.
"Now I just try to make simple moves and let the game come to me," Oturu said. "I don't try to do too much, especially when I have fouls."
Oturu's career-high eight turnovers in Monday's defeat in Iowa City were costly when the Gophers were attempting a comeback in the second half. That was a byproduct of facing constant double- and triple-teams from the Hawkeyes.
"He needs to recognize what they're doing," Pitino said. "Don't put the ball down if you don't need to. He'll learn. He played really hard and did a great job."
With junior big man Eric Curry out for the year with another knee injury and the Big Ten so loaded in the paint, the Gophers need the best from Oturu every night. He has known that since before the season.
"I don't think there's really any pressure in it," he said. "I just try to have fun, because I'm out there trying to do something I love."