Gophers men’s basketball at Nebraska
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
Senior urgency – Four seniors are in the rotation for the Gophers all with aspirations of making the NCAA tournament. That means these last four or five weeks of their college careers are all they have to lead the U to the Big Dance and audition themselves for the pros. How could they help a team at the next level? Jordan Murphy is a record-setting rebounder & powerful finisher. Dupree McBrayer makes plays off the dribble and can disrupt defensively with his length. Brock Stull is a playmaker and shooter (although he hasn’t shot enough and played enough to show it much yet). Matz Stockman has the size (7’1”) and length (7’6” wingspan) to alter shots and rebound. Can these four seniors do what they do best and help the Gophers stay in contention for their first NCAA tournament since 2017? It starts Wednesday night at Nebraska, Stull said: “That’s the biggest goal of the year — to make sure we get to the tournament,” he said. “When I was picking a school (grad transfer from UW-Milwaukee) that’s why I chose to come here, because I felt comfortable we could make the tournament. So we got to get things back on track.” NCAA tournament bracket experts Joe Lunardi from ESPN (No. 11 seed) and Jerry Palm from CBS Sports (No. 9 seed) both still have Minnesota in the NCAA tourney entering Wednesday.
Amir attacking – The Gophers faced a double-digit deficit in the first half of their last meeting with Nebraska in December. The home crowd was getting frustrated and restless. Have no fear. Amir Coffey is here! Coffey came to the rescue and scored 11 straight points to get within striking distance to trail just 44-39 at halftime. Coffey continued to be in attack mode when the Cornhuskers responded and led by as much as 13 points. The 6’8” junior guard exploded for 18 of his career-best 32 points in the second half in a 85-78 win at Williams Arena. Nebraska reverted to fouling in order to slow the former Hopkins star down, but he shot 8-for-16 from the field and 14-for-17 from the foul line. Coffey also had six assists, six rebounds and limited Huskers’ leading scorer James Palmer Jr. to 11 points on 3-for-14 shooting in 34 minutes. Coffey is looking to bounce back after just four points with foul trouble Saturday at Michigan State, his lowest scoring game since another four-point effort in a loss to the Spartans as a freshman in 2016-17.
Board control – The Gophers aren’t a great shooting team, so that makes it even more vital to crash the offensive boards with maximum effort Wednesday. A major factor in the Dec. 5 win against the Cornhuskers was winning the rebounding battle 37-29, including 15 offensive rebounds. Murphy, Coffey, Stockman and Daniel Oturu combined for 12 offensive rebounds. Murphy also had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. But Stockman has arguably his best game in Big Ten play with four points, five rebounds and two blocks off the bench in 17 minutes. His presence as the backup center will be crucial with sophomore Eric Curry expected to miss his second straight game with a calf injury.
Time: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday. Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena. Line: Gophers 4.0-point favorite. Series: Minnesota leads the series 55-21, including winning the last meeting 85-78 on Dec. 5 in Minneapolis. TV: Big Ten Network. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM.
MINNESOTA GOPHERS (16-8, 6-7 in Big Ten)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G- Amir Coffey 6-8 Jr. 15.3
G- Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Sr. 9.5
G- Gabe Kalscheur 6-4 Fr. 10.3
F- Jordan Murphy 6-7 Sr. 14.5
C- Daniel Oturu 6-10 Fr. 10.8
Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, So., 4.9 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, Jr., 1.9 ppg; Brock Stull, G, 6-4, Sr., 1.7 ppg; Matz Stockman, C, 7-0, Sr., 2.8 ppg; Jarvis Omersa, F, 6-7, Fr., 1.0 ppg.
Coach: Richard Pitino 124-100 (7th season)
Notable: Redshirt sophomore big man Eric Curry is not expected to play Wednesday at Nebraska to rest a calf injury. Curry was sidelined for Saturday’s loss at Michigan State and the first 18 games after knee surgery. The 6-9 Memphis native started five games, but Oturu replaced him in the lineup Saturday in East Lansing. Oturu had 12 points and seven rebounds against the Spartans … Senior guard Brock Stull, who played a season-high 24 minutes Saturday against Michigan State, needs one point to reach 1,000 for his career at both Minnesota and Milwaukee … The Gophers allowed Nebraska to shoot 51 percent in the first half and trailed 55-42 with 17:14 left in the second half in the last meeting in Minneapolis, but they outscored the Cornhuskers 43-23 the rest of the way.
NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (13-11, 3-10)
Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG
G-Glynn Watson Jr. 6-0 Sr. 11.8
G-Thomas Allen 6-1 So. 9.0
G-James Palmer Jr. 6-6 Sr. 18.9
F-Tanner Borchardt 6-8 Sr. 2.7
F-Isaiah Roby 6-8 Jr. 11.1
Key reserves– Thor Thorbjarnarson, F, 6-6, So., 1.4 ppg; Nana Akenten, F, 6-6, So., 4.2 ppg; Brady Heiman, F, 6-11, Fr., 2.3 ppg; Amir Harris, G, 6-6, Fr., 1.1 ppg.
Coach: Tim Miles 393-328 (24th season)
Notable: The Cornhuskers lost senior forward Isaac Copeland with a season-ending knee injury in late January. Copeland, who was their second leading scorer, had a team-best 17 points and seven rebounds in the loss at Minnesota. Nebraska is on a seven-game losing streak, including four straight losses at home after going undefeated at Pinnacle Bank Arena last season. Sophomore forward Nana Akenten might also be out Wednesday after missing some practice time with an illness this week … Sophomore guard Thomas Allen will likely return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench the last two games. Allen, who started 20 games this season, led Nebraska with 18 points in Saturday’s loss at Purdue. He’s averaging 11.5 points and shooting 47 percent from the field in his last four games.
Fuller’s prediction (prediction record 14-8): Gophers 76, Nebraska 72. The Gophers have never won at Pinnacle Bank Arena. You could argue they’ve never really played that well there, either. The most recent loss at Nebraska’s newer arena (built in 2013) came last season when Minnesota was ranked 14th in the country and fell 78-68. That was before the off-court issues and injuries derailed the season. Three years ago, the Gophers were getting dominated by nearly 40 points before losing 84-59 during the eight-win season. Those Gophers were young and lacked the talent to compete, but Murphy and McBrayer are still around from that team. You can bet they want some revenge from some bad experiences at Pinnacle. I think the U’s seniors, including Stull and Stockman rally their team and get back on track for an NCAA tournament bid.