After falling at the hands of Ohio State on Sunday, Maryland men’s basketball looks to get back on track Wednesday night. The Terps travel to Minneapolis for their only meeting with the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season. Ahead of the game, we reached out to Nick Jungheim of the Minnesota Daily to learn more about the Gophers. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr have cemented themselves as some of the Big Ten’s premiere stars. Apart from the duo, who should Maryland look out for on Minnesota?
Sophomore Gabe Kalscheur has struggled for much of the season, but when he gets hot, he’s proven to be a valuable asset for the Gophers. He rebounded from a 1-11 shooting performance against Indiana to make four three-pointers against Northwestern on Sunday. Kalscheur’s shooting has been the difference in numerous Minnesota victories over the past two years, and in order to earn a victory tonight, he and redshirt junior Payton Willis must make shots from the perimeter.
Sitting at 13-13 and 7-9 in the Big Ten, Minnesota finds themselves on the wrong side of the bubble right now. What do the Gophers have to do to make their third NCAA Tournament in four years?
Right now, it seems unlikely that the Gophers will make a run at the tournament unless they win the remainder of their regular season games. Obviously, a win against Maryland tonight would go a long way toward reversing their fortunes, but they would still need to win back-to-back games on the road against Wisconsin and Indiana. In order to make an improbable run, the offense must perform efficiently like it did against Northwestern, but their upcoming opponents will not make that easy.
As mentioned earlier, Oturu and Carr have been stellar this season. What do the two excel at on the court?
Early last season as a freshman, Oturu made strides adjusting to the physicality of Big Ten play. He can post up defenders while still having good enough footwork to get to the basket. Additionally, he is a very solid rebounder and shot blocker. This year, his midrange game has improved a lot too. It should be fun to watch him go against Jalen Smith.
Carr has brought a consistent presence at point guard, which is something Minnesota didn’t have last year. He can drive to the basket, spread the ball around and has shown the ability to take over games and will the team to victory. He has definitely asserted himself as a leader on the team.
This is the seventh season that Richard Pitino has been at the helm. How would you describe his tenure thus far?
Pitino’s tenure can be described by highs and lows. He has won a NIT but did not make the NCAA Tournament until 2016-17. That season, the Gophers had a remarkable turnaround after an 8-23 campaign the year prior. In 2017-18, Minnesota figured to be a top-15 team nationally, but finished below .500 after losing several key players to injury and suspension. Last year, many people were wondering if he would be fired, but the team finished strong and Pitino won his first NCAA Tournament game. This season was expected to be a rebuilding year, but he did well to get the team in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Now that a bid seems unlikely, however, there are questions about his job security once again.
Minnesota wins if…
Oturu gets the better of his matchup with Jalen Smith and the guards knock down open threes when they get the chance. The Gophers will also need to find a way to slow down Anthony Cowan Jr., as he scored over 20 points in both meetings against Minnesota a season ago.
Maryland wins if…
They limit mistakes. Winning at The Barn isn’t easy — even for a top-10 team — so they will have to avoid errors such as turnovers and missed free throws that could give Minnesota momentum. However, if Minnesota struggles to make threes like against Indiana, Maryland should come away with a victory.