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GOPHERS MEN’S HOOPS at NORTHWESTERN

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Dominant Daniel – It hasn’t been often this year when one of the most talented centers in recent Gophers history struggled for one game let alone in back-to-back losses. Sophomore Daniel Oturu has been that special this season. But the 6-foot-10 Oturu had trouble with not only being dominant but just being half as productive as he normally is in Big Ten play. In a third straight loss Wednesday against Indiana, the former Cretin-Derham Hall star had just 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the field in 34 minutes (two points on 1-for-7 shooting and three turnovers in the second half). For the first time this year, Oturu was severely outplayed by the opposing big man with Indiana freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis racking up a career-high 27 points and 16 rebounds (Jackson-Davis had 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in the second half). It was Oturu’s lowest scoring game at home in Big Ten play. In the last two games, he’s averaging 13 points on 39.3 percent (11 for 28) from the field and 36.4 percent on free throws (4-for-11). It was a significant drop off from his averages of 21.5 points on 54.1 percent shooting from the field and 71.4 percent from the foul line prior to that in the Big Ten. Will the Gophers see Oturu return to his old self Sunday against Northwestern’s freshman Ryan Young? Oturu had 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks in the Jan. 5 win against Young at the Barn.

Backcourt battle – The last time the Gophers played the Wildcats in a 77-68 win in Minneapolis, their opponent had just one guard in the starting lineup, Pat Spencer. The former lacrosse star turned Division I basketball player surprisingly outplayed Minnesota’s talented point guard Marcus Carr. Spencer, a powerfully-built 6-3 senior, scored 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting and had eight assists in 39 minutes. Carr struggled shooting from the field (3 for 11), but he finished with 17 points on 10-for-10 shooting at the foul line. One of the bright spots from the game was freshman Tre’ Williams’ career-high 10 points in a starting role. Junior Payton Willis had just returned after missing three games with an ankle injury, but he came off the bench. In Sunday’s matchup, Northwestern will have freshman standout Boo Buie, who was sidelined in the last meeting at the Barn. Buie averages 11.4 points and shoots 37 percent from three-point range in Big Ten play, which includes highs of 26 points vs. Michigan State and 19 points vs. Rutgers. It should be an intriguing backcourt battle Sunday between Northwestern’s Buie and Spencer vs. Minnesota’s Carr, Willis and Gabe Kalscheur, who is coming off a 1-for-11 shooting performance against Indiana.

Second chance pointsRichard Pitino admitted Wednesday that he had never seen a stat like 13 offensive rebounds and zero second-chance points in the Gophers’ loss to Indiana. That makes two of us. That’s really hard to do when you think about it, but the failure to take advantage of so many offensive boards contributed to the 68-56 loss against the Hoosiers. Indiana outrebounded Minnesota 21-19 in the second half, but it had fewer offensive boards 8-6. That didn’t matter. The Gophers were outscored 8-0 in second chance points in the second half. Coincidentally, they also gave up an 8-0 run to end the game after cutting it to a four-point deficit with just over two minutes to play. Oturu failed to convert on five of those offensive rebounds in the game. Credit Indiana’s post defense on him. But six other Minnesota players also grabbed boards on the offensive end as well – with no points to show for it. Pitino’s team had a much better showing in a 58-55 loss against Iowa with 15 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. There’s something, though, about the Gophers just struggling to get second chance points in the second half in the last two games. They had just two points in that area against the Hawkeyes. In the last two losses, the Gophers have been outscored 34-20 in points in the paint and 14-2 in second chance points in the second half. Not going to cut it.

GAME INFO

Time: 2 p.m. CT, Sunday. Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena. Line: Minnesota 3-point favorite. Series: Gophers holds the edge 97-68, including a 77-68 win in the last meeting on Jan. 5 at home. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus. Radio: 100.3

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA GOPHERS (12-13, 6-9)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Marcus Carr 6-2 So. 15.3

G – Payton Willis 6-5 Jr. 9.2

G – Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 So. 11.4

F – Alihan Demir 6-9 Sr. 7.2

C – Daniel Oturu 6-10 So. 19.6

Key reserves– Tre’ Williams, G, 6-5, Fr., 3.3 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, So., 1.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Sr., 1.4 ppg; Isaiah Ihnen, F, 6-9, Fr., 2.1 ppg.

Coach: Richard Pitino 142-119 (8th season overall)

Notable: Redshirt junior big man Eric Curry had successful surgery in the fall on a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during practice Oct. 7. The 6-9 redshirt junior hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2016-17 after tearing ligaments in his left knee in 2017 and foot surgery last season. The last time Curry saw the court for the Gophers was with six points, four rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes in a win at Northwestern on Feb. 28, 2019. Curry’s best performance last season was with 11 points and four rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench in a 65-64 victory against Penn State on Jan. 19 at the Barn … The Gophers shot just 10-for-19 from the free throw line Wednesday against Indiana, but they were 19-for-19 on foul shots in the last win against Northwestern.

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (6-19, 1-14)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Boo Buie 6-2 Fr. 10.6

G – Pat Spencer 6-3 Sr. 10.6

F – Miller Kopp 6-7 So. 13.2

F – Robbie Beran 6-9 Fr. 5.0

C – Ryan Young 6-10 Fr. 9.2

Key reserves – A.J. Turner, F, 6-7, Sr., 4.9 ppg; Pete Nance, F, 6-10, So., 7.9 ppg; Jared Jones, F, 6-10, Fr., 3.0 ppg; Ryan Greer, G, 6-3, Jr., 1.1 ppg.

Coach: Chris Collins 107-115 (7th season)

Notable: The Wildcats were down to just seven scholarship players with Anthony Gaines, Buie and A.J. Turner sidelined with injuries in the Jan. 5 loss at Minnesota. Collins’ team is much healthier now. Turner and Buie are back, but Gaines is out for the season. In the last 15 games, sophomore Miller Kopp is averaging 14.9 points, shooting 41 percent from three and scored in double figures 14 times. Kopp had 14 points in 40 minutes against the Gophers in the last meeting, including 12 points in the second half.

Fuller’s prediction (14-11 with picks): Gophers 65, Northwestern 62.