After a difficult stretch of games against Big Ten frontrunners Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan in a short period of time, IU has gotten an extended break heading into the final run of games leading up to the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers got back on track Monday night with a win at Rutgers 65-4 and ended their season-high four-game losing streak.
IU will look to build on that victory and play the first of two straight easier games at home against Minnesota 7:30 p.m. Friday. Here is what you need to know about the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota has struggled in the past month
Since IU defeated Minnesota 75-71 Jan. 6, Minnesota has lost eight out of nine games, including six straight games. The Golden Gophers' only victory since the beginning of January was a 94-84 victory over Penn State. That was one of Minnesota’s two road victories of the season, the other coming in November at Providence.
Junior forward Jordan Murphy is Minnesota’s best weapon
Murphy is averaging 17.7 points per game, the most on the team, and is the only Golden Gopher to start in all 26 contests so far this season. He is also Minnesota’s best rebounder averaging 11.7 rebounds per game. However, he has struggled to shoot around the three-point range, as he is only shooting 24 percent from deep on a limited number of attempts.
The Hoosiers, who nearly defeated Michigan State last Saturday due to their prowess on the offensive glass, will be tasked with slowing down Murphy on the boards. Senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr. had 16 rebounds against the Spartans and will compete with Murphy on the boards. Murphy’s offensive rebounding percentage of 14.6 percent is 14th in the country, and his defensive rebounding percentage of 24.4 percent is 64th in the country.
Senior guard Nate Mason controls Minnesota’s offense
With one of the highest offensive ratings on the team, Mason is what makes this team go. Even using so many possessions, his turnover percentage of 9.9 percent is 69th-best in college basketball. Mason has played in one less game than Murphy but is averaging the most minutes on the team, at 33 minutes per game, to go along with his 16.4 points per game. He is also one of Minnesota’s best three-point shooters and has been shooting 41.4-percent from three-point range.
Freshman point guard Isaiah Washington has emerged
Washington was named Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday after his strong performances against Iowa and Michigan. He has the best assist rate on the team, at 25.9 percent, and in conference play, he is averaging 7.2 points per game. The New York native has become a high usage player for Minnesota as he is taking the highest percentage of shots on the team.
Minnesota’s offense will be put to the test
IU’s defense has steadily been improving throughout the season as the players understand IU Coach Archie Miller’s defensive system more and more. Per Kenpom.com, the Hoosiers have the 76th best defense in the country, which is a major leap forward from earlier on in the season. Minnesota’s offense is ranked similarly to IU’s defense by Kempom, with the Golden Gophers checking in at No. 64 in terms of their offense.
Minnesota is not a team that relies heavily on three-point shooting. As a team, the Golden Gophers are shooting 35.2 percent from the three-point line. They also struggle to shoot from two, shooting 48.3 percent, which is 235th in the nation. Where Minnesota does have success on offense is not turning the ball over with one of the lowest turnover percentages in the country.
IU looks to continue its climb up the Big Ten standings Friday.