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Men’s basketball preview: Gophers look for rebound at Purdue

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Minnesota is well-rested and seeking its first road win

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Do you feel that icy chill of doubt creeping up your spine? That’s Gopher fandom, baby. Hello, old friend.

Just one week after thoroughly throttling a very good Michigan team, Minnesota promptly laid an egg at home — where they had been undefeated — to a fine/okay Maryland team. It was a pitiful performance, reminiscent of other beatdowns suffered so far at the hands of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, where Minnesota trailed from wire to wire, couldn’t make a shot and generally looked disinterested in playing basketball.

It was a stark reminder that, while the Gophers are still ranked in the AP Top 25, they are liable to play like the worst team in the conference on any given night. Frustratingly enough, they are good enough to play like the best team in conference on any given night as well, but you can generally tell within the first few minutes of a game which version you’re going to get.

You can probably write an entire article unpacking the woes that have surfaced in Minnesota’s losses, but it boils down to shooting. This is a team that could realistically win 80% of its games the rest of the way if it was merely a mediocre shooting team. Instead they carry the millstone of being an abysmal shooting team, which puts them in tossup territory in each game.

Things hardly get easier on Saturday as Minnesota travels to West Lafayette to face a good Purdue team. Minnesota’s road troubles are well-documented, though this will be the first non-ranked team they will face away from home. Of course, facing a non-ranked team at home last weekend didn’t matter either. A week off between games didn’t do them any favors last weekend. Will the rust still be evident tonight?

Essentials:

Opponent:

Purdue Boilermakers (11-6, 6-4)

Date and Time:

Saturday, January 30th @ 6:30 p.m. CT

Location:

Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, IN)

TV:

BTN

Radio:

103.5 KTLK-FM

Tell me more about the opponent.

Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms are gone through the transfer portal, but Purdue has made up for those losses by relying heavily on freshman contributors ... and it’s paying off.

Junior center Trevion Williams is the star of the show, of course, and he’s averaging 15.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg, which is good for second in the conference. But the Boilers employ three freshman starters now with Jaden Ivey, Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis on the court. 7-4 freshman center Zach Edey averages nearly 8 ppg off the bench to add a fourth freshman weapon. Between all four Purdue is getting almost 30 points per game.

Do they match up well with the Gophers? Minnesota will probably like playing Purdue more than Maryland, as the Terps used their length at every position to frustrate the Gopher offense. Purdue has a more traditional lineup, which means Liam Robbins may be able to operate more freely, assuming he stays out of foul trouble. Purdue isn’t a great offensive rebounding team, so if Minnesota can collect misses they can pad their margin for error.

Also acting in Minnesota’s favor is the absence for Purdue of junior sharpshooter Sasha Stefanovic, who is out with a COVID-related absence. The second-leading scorer on the team, that is quite the hole to fill.

The Boilers are coming off a drubbing at the hands of Michigan last week, so both teams are looking to get back on track. For the Gophers it’s a huge opportunity to grab a much-needed road win. For Purdue, a win probably vaults them into the Top 25 for the first time this year.

Predictions

It’s the first game of a tough two-game road stretch for the Gophers, who desperately need to get the money off their back away from home. They have a horrific record at Mackey Arena to boot. A loss tonight means they will have dropped four of their last five, which begins to enter free-fall territory. Certainly not what you want after such a promising start.

But back to the shooting woes. It’s starting to look pretty simple nowadays: when the Gophers shoot well, they are tough to beat. When they shoot terribly they get killed.

Hard to pick them on the road, especially after last weekend’s debacle. Purdue by 5.