GOPHERS MEN'S HOOPS VS. MARYLAND
FULLER'S FOUR THINGS TO WATCH:
Richard Pitino doesn't just call Gophers co-captain Gabe Kalscheur the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten as a biased coach's opinion. There's evidence to back up his claim. Most recently, Kalscheur shut down several of the top wing players in the league in big U victories at the Barn.
Michigan's talented sophomore Franz Wagner tops many NBA mock draft boards when it comes to Big Ten prospects, but he had just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting in last weekend's 75-57 win against the No. 7-ranked Wolverines. Kalscheur is 6-4 and 200 pounds. Wagner is nearly 6-10 and 220. But there is no opposing player too big or too small for the former DeLaSalle star to lock down.
"He takes pride in doing it," Pitino said. "He's fundamentally sound. He's got his knees bent. It's very hard to screen him. He's physical without fouling. He wants to guard the best player. He's relentless in his approach to do it. It's just a great commitment. He's very cerebral with it. He understands scouting reports and what's coming. He just has a knack for it."
In Minnesota's 102-95 overtime win against then-No. 4 Iowa, Kalscheur held 6-6 guard Joe Wieskamp to 3-for-13 shooting from the field. In the 81-56 win against Michigan State, Kalscheur held 6-6 Aaron Henry to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting. Ohio State's Duane Washington had 21 points in a 77-60 loss against the Gophers. But Kalscheur limited Washington to eight points on 3-for-7 shooting and two of his three turnovers in the second half. Even in a 27-point loss at Illinois on Dec. 15, Kalscheur did his part stifling one of the nation's top scoring guards in Ayo Dosunmu, who finished with just 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting with four turnovers against Minnesota at home. It was Dosunmu's lowest scoring and worst shooting game so far this season.
Sure, the Gophers would love for Kalscheur's three point shooting (23%) to return to his freshman form (41%), but he sets the tone for them on defense.
"I feel like the defensive end brings a lot of energy to the offensive end," Kalscheur said. "And if you're not doing a great job on offense you can always put in energy, work and hustle on the defensive end. I feel like that gets me a lot of excitement. I have a lot of fun with it."
In non-league play, Kalscheur flexed his defensive prowess against St. Louis' leading scorer Javonte Perkins, who had just 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Just to show you how much Perkins can light it up, he had 20 points in a win vs. North Carolina State and 32 points in a win over LSU, respectively.
Pitino switches up defenders on the opponent's top player at times. But Kalscheur always does most of the work to establish Minnesota's ball pressure. That's an area where the Gophers hope will carry over Saturday vs. Maryland's talented backcourt of Eric Ayala, Daryl Morsell and Aaron Wiggins. Kalscheur can't do it alone.
Dunk you very much!
One play that might have gotten lost in the Gophers' big win against Michigan last weekend was standout point guard Marcus Carr's breakaway two-handed slam in the middle of a second-half run.
That was the first dunk of Carr's career at Minnesota, which was a bit of surprise maybe to fans but not his teammates. The 6-2 junior worked on getting leaner, quicker, and more athletic this offseason training for the NBA draft back home in Toronto. And it showed on that above-the-rim finish.
"It gets our energy going," junior guard Both Gach said. "Guys start yelling and screaming, especially when Marcus had that dunk. We all know Marcus can dunk because he does that stuff in practice. Just to see it in the game was very crazy to see, actually. As you saw on the bench, we were all hyped for him. Everyone was all excited."
The Gophers had 51 dunks through 15 games in the 2018-19, but the most of those slams came from Jordan Murphy (17), Daniel Oturu (15) and Amir Coffey (nine). In 14 games in 2019-20, the Gophers had 27 dunks led by Oturu (17) and Jarvis Omersa (six). This season, the Gophers have only 16 dunks in 15 games, but they had three against the Wolverines. Seven-footer Liam Robbins leads the team with five dunks, but he only had three in the first 13 games and one of them in Big Ten play before deciding to take off, literally, against Michigan.
Robbins, who was named Naismith Trophy and Big Ten player of the week on Monday, caught a pass in transition from outside the charge circle and slammed it on Michigan's Austin Davis. That athleticism opened some eyes for sure. Omersa, who opted out and left the team Dec. 20, is still tied for second with Brandon Johnson on the team with three dunks.
The Gophers are worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-1.8). They won the battle of the boards for three straight games vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. But that wasn't enough to overcome being beaten on the glass by Illinois (minus-18), Iowa twice (minus-17 and minus-6) and Michigan twice (minus-9 and minus-4). Robbins leads the Gophers (7.3) in rebounding this season and picked up his first double-double game this year with 27 points and 14 rebounds against the Buckeyes. But this isn't like years past when Jordan Murphy (twice) and Oturu (last season) led the Big Ten in rebounding. They were good for 10-12 rebounds every night. Now it has to be more of a team effort.
The Gophers will need their frontcourt and backcourt to help Robbins, but they have a chance to own the glass Saturday against Maryland. The Terrapins rank just ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin overall (plus-0.8). Undersized big man Donta Scott (6-7) is their leading rebounder at 6.6 per game.
The Gophers currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten, but they dropped from first to third nationally in free throws made per game (19.3) after making only 17 free throws in two games combined before upsetting Michigan at home. This season is still a major upgrade from last year when they ranked 285th nationally with 11.5 foul shots made per game. They're getting to the line nearly twice as often and converting 76.1 percent, ranked fourth overall in the Big Ten. Getting to the line is obviously a strength for Pitino's team. Getting outshot at the line isn't always detrimental. They were 5-14 when outshot by their opponent on free throws last season. They're 2-2 in the same situation this season. But the Gophers only shot 6-for-6 from the line in the road loss against the Wolverines, which was obviously too far from their average to make up the difference.
Carr, who shoots 80 percent on free throws, is behind only Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis for the most made free throws (80 to 91) among Big Ten players this season. Carr was just 2-for-2 on free throws against Michigan on the road and didn't attempt a free throw at Iowa. The Big Ten's fourth leading scorer attacking the basket and getting to the foul line is critical to Minnesota's offense.
Time:1 p.m. CT, Saturday.Where:Williams Arena.Line:Minnesota 6.5-point favorite.Series:Minnesota trails the series 2-10, including the last meeting a 74-73 loss at Williams Arena on Feb. 26, 2020.TV: Big Ten Network.Online/Live video: BTN-Plus.Radio:100.3 KFAN.
NO. 17 MINNESOTA GOPHERS(11-4, 4-4)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Marcus Carr 6-2 195 Jr.20.6
G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 200 Jr. 9.8
G – Both Gach 6-6 185 Jr. 10.2
F – Brandon Johnson 6-8 220 Sr. 8.1
C – Liam Robbins 7-0 235 Jr. 13.8
Key reserves– Eric Curry, F-C, 6-9, Sr., 3.8 ppg; Jamal Mashburn Jr., G, 6-2, Fr., 4.9 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, So., 2.5 ppg; Tre' Williams, G, 6-5, So., 3.4 ppg.
Coach:Richard Pitino 156-126 (9th season overall)
Notable: Western Michigan grad transfer Brandon Johnson missed the Dec. 10 win vs. UMKC with a left ankle injury, but he returned the next game in the Big Ten opener at Illinois. Johnson's breakout performance came soon after with a season-high 26 points on 8-for-9 shooting from three-point range in the overtime win vs. Iowa on Christmas Day. The Gophers were 17-for-43 from three, setting a team record for attempts from beyond the arc. Johnson's three-point percentage in that game was a team record and he tied the single-game record for threes made. The Chicago native is shooting 39.3% from three this season, but he hasn't been able to come close to duplicating that one record-setting performance from three. He shot 2-for-11 on threes in the seven games before Iowa. Johnson's shot 1-for-10 from long distance in the five games since playing the Hawkeyes. The Gophers shot 27-for-68 (39.7%) from three in back-to-back wins vs. St. Louis and Iowa, but they have shot 29.9% from deep this season, last in the Big Ten. Was that last Hawkeyes win an aberration from the three-point line? We'll see moving forward.
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (8-7, 2-6)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G – Eric Ayala 6-5 200 Jr. 13.8
G – Daryl Morsell 6-5 200 Sr. 8.4
G – Aaron Wiggins 6-6 200 Jr. 12.5
F – Galin Smith 6-9 235 Sr. 4.6
F – Donta Scott 6-7 230 So. 12.9
Key reserves– Hakim Hart, G, 6-6, So., 9.0 ppg; Jarius Hamilton, F, 6-8, Jr., 7.5 ppg; James Graham III, F, 6-8, Fr., 2.5 ppg; Chol Marial, C, 7-2, So., 1.9 ppg.
Coach: Mark Turgeon 462-265-12 (23rd season)
Notable:Maryland's two Big Ten wins were on the road against ranked opponents Wisconsin and Illinois, but the Terrapins have never beaten three ranked opponents on the road in one season. Turgeon has a 6-2 record against Pitino and the Gophers, which includes having four straight wins in the series since 2017 … Ayala had 12 points in 31 minutes off the bench in his return Tuesday against the Wolverines after missing two games with a groin injury. Ayala is the team's leading scorer this season with 13.8 points per game on 47% shooting from the field.
Fuller's score prediction (Picks record 10-5):Gophers 75, Maryland 69.