Ohio State is 12-8 on the year, 2-5 in the Big Ten. They are one of the two or three worst Big Ten teams this season. Even though they are at home, this is a Buckeye team that an NCAA Tournament team should beat nine times out of ten. Yes Minnesota is slumping at the moment with Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy struggling. The Gophers have lost three in a row. A fourth loss in a row isn’t the end of the season, but losing at Ohio State for the fourth loss in a row would be quite alarming.
Yesterday Richard Pitino spoke to the media along with sophomore Dupree McBrayer and Senior Akeem Springs, two guys that have recently switched roles. Springs spoke about this team still being confident and not hitting the panic button. McBrayer said that Akeem earned his starting spot by being a leader and that he deserves the spot.
Pitino’s message? The team had their best practice of the year Monday and they are locked in on improving what they need to improve. Much like Ohio State is likely doing right now. The Buckeyes are 2-5 in Big Ten play but they’ve been in most games. Outside of the back to back road stretch in Minneapolis and Madison (the Buckeyes lost both by double figures) the other five games have been really close.
Minnesota lost to Michigan State twice where as the Buckeyes beat Tom Izzo’s team. Ohio State also beat Nebraska and then a one score game at home to Northwestern last Sunday. The news out of Columbus right now is the speech that 6-foot-2 junior guard Kam Williams gave after a recent loss. Williams is one of five Ohio State players averaging in double figures.
Minnesota won the previous Buckeyes/Gophers match-up 78-66 in Minneapolis. Jae’Sean Tate put up 20 points with nine rebounds while Trevor Thompson recorded 15 points and 15 boards. Ohio State had the rebounding edge 45-39 but the dozen Gopher blocked shots was a key factor in the Buckeyes shooting just 40 percent for the game (their 11 of 21 free throw shooting didn’t help them either). Minnesota received 19 from Amir Coffey and 18 rom Akeem Springs in the win.
The most important numbers to know from the Minnesota side of things is the building struggles of junior Nate Mason and sophomore Jordan Murphy, the two guys that many thought would be All Big Ten caliber.
Nate Mason Slump. On New Year’s Day Nate Mason put up 31 points with 11 assists shooting 11 of 18 from the field and making a couple treys. In the five games since Nate is still taking care of the ball and creating for others with 25 assists against eight turnovers, but his shooting touch has deserted him. He’s made only 16 of his last 54 shots (29.6%) and only 2 of his last 14 three-point attempts. Mason has missed scoring in double figures three times all year and two of those were the last two games played.
Jordan Murphy Slump. Murphy hasn’t scored in double figures since the New Year’s Day game at Purdue. He’s scored 32 points total in his last five games shooting an ugly 13 of 33 (39%) from the field as a big. Also Murphy’s rebounding numbers are dropping quickly. In the last three games he’s only grabbed nine total in 75 minutes of play. This is after grabbing 21 in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. Murphy’s defense has been very inconsistent and his effort level has really dropped.
Luckily for Minnesota, Amir Coffey has been fantastic in Big Ten play. Most likely their MVP and best player in league play. He’s averaging 13 points and 4.5 rebounds a game shooting 50 percent on his 9-10 shots a game and making 43.5 percent of his 23 three-point attempts.
Ohio State also has guys coming into the game with struggles. Ohio State skilled 6-foot-8 senior small forward Marc Loving has made just 14 of his last 44 attempts in his last five games (32%). Junior leader Kam Williams has shot 8 of 25 in the past two contests. JaQuan Lyle turned the ball over four times in each of the last two games.
The guys that have been playing well for the Buckeyes are center Trevor Thompson and undersized four man Jae’Sean Tate. Both had fantastic games against the Gophers earlier in the month and they are facing a Gopher frontcourt that is struggling.
Reggie Lynch has battled foul trouble as expected (although he’s playing 20 minutes a game which is an improvement from his 17 a game as a sophomore) and Jordan Murphy has went through the documented struggles. Not to mention Michigan State, Purdue, and Wisconsin ate Minnesota alive in the post in earlier games.
If Minnesota is to win tonight they will need the same type of shot contesting/shot blocking effort plus they need either Lynch to stay on the floor without foul issues or Jordan Murphy to break out of his slump. Bakary Konate and Eric Curry are solid off the bench but Bakary can only give so many quality minutes and Curry is young.
All signs point to Minnesota having an edge in the Amir Coffey versus Marc Loving match-up. Coffey outplayed Loving in the previous games and they come into tonight’s in two very different ways. The Gophers need to get the ball to Coffey a bit more than usual and let him attack while Amir and his teammates need to keep a hand in Loving’s face so his shooting woes continue.
Williams and CJ Jackson were not able to score against Gopher senior Akeem Springs in the first match-up. Akeem replaced Dupree McBrayer in that game much like he replaced McBrayer in the starting line-up recently. Springs is a smart player how defends hard and has been hitting open shots. He needs to give the Gophers the edge again tonight plus McBrayer off the bench needs to produce like he has as well.
Nate Mason. The Gophers don’t have a guy to replace him. They can stick Konate in the post for some of Reggie’s minutes, Curry can play for Murphy, and Springs, Coffey, and McBrayer can rotate time. Nobody can replace Nate Mason. The Gophers need their senior leader to break out of his struggles tonight, or maybe help Murphy break out of his. I think either Nate or Jordan has a big night.
The Gophers need this game. They’ve had a good week of practice and they know how valuable a road win is, but they also know that losing to an Ohio State team on the road will look bad on the resume. Tonight things should come together and they get a two score grind it out victory ending the losing skid.
Minnesota 75 Ohio State 71.