After nearly a week without a game, the IU men’s basketball team is about to embark on a stretch of three games in six days.
The frantic start to the end of conference play begins for IU on Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, where the Hoosiers will play the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota, 16-9 overall and 6-8 in conference play, hasn’t won a game since Jan. 30, but still has two more conference wins than IU.
Ahead of this weekend’s contest, here are three things to know.
1. “The Barn” has been a significant home-court advantage for Minnesota.
Opened in 1928, Williams Arena — better known as “The Barn” — is a staple of Big Ten Conference basketball. Some of the arena’s special features, such as an elevated court, theater-style seats and an unusually high ceiling, make it one of the more distinct college basketball environments in the country.
The Golden Gophers have had success at the venue this season, posting an 11-2 home record. That being said, the quality of opponent Minnesota has defeated at home is lacking.
Based on the Rating Percentage Index rankings, Minnesota’s best home win is against Iowa, which has the 37th best RPI in the country. Overall the teams the Golden Gophers have beaten at home have an average RPI position of 164 out of the 353 NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs.
Minnesota’s nonconference slate in particular lowered the quality of its home wins, as opponents like Mount St. Mary’s University, the University of North Florida and Arkansas State University rank among the worst RPI teams.
2. The Golden Gophers’ roster is one of the tallest the Hoosiers will face this season.
Length and size for interior players is a hallmark of this season’s Minnesota roster for Head Coach Richard Pitino.
Eleven Minnesota players are listed as 6-feet-4-inches or taller, including Minnesota’s top four leading scorers, led by 6-feet-8-inch junior guard Amir Coffey. He averages more than 15 points per contest, while senior forward Jordan Murphy, freshman center Daniel Oturu and freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur all also score double-digit points per game.
The Golden Gophers are one of the few teams in the country to have a different statistical leader in each of the five major categories of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game.
But chief among the concerns for IU Head Coach Archie Miller will be Murphy, who is following two seasons of being named an All-Big Ten selection with yet another stellar showing. His 11.9 rebounds per game are easily the most on the Minnesota team, and he’s scored 10 or more points in 20 of his 25 games played.
“He is an unbelievably physically strong player,” Miller said. “He is a load to deal with, defending him from the perimeter on in, defending him with his back to the basket and keeping him off the glass.”
3. Saturday will be a homecoming for IU redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson.
The only IU player from Minnesota is redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson, who has had few opportunities to display his talents after redshirting the 2017-2018 season and suffering a concussion this season. He’s played in just one game with IU, last November against Montana State University.
That head injury has sidelined Thompson for the past couple months, but prior to the Feb. 10 game against Ohio State, Thompson appeared on IU’s pregame radio show and said he’s back to being ready to play.
“I do think there’s an opportunity for us as a staff to keep evaluating things and find a way to give Race a crack at it,” Miller said. “Sometimes as a staff, a guy who has missed as much as he’s missed, you just don’t know.”
Should Thompson’s return come Saturday, it would be against a school to which he has direct family ties. Thompson’s father, Darrell, played football at Minnesota from 1986-1989 and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, while Thompson’s brother, True, is currently a wide receiver on the Minnesota football team.
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