By Patrick Vint on December 9, 2019 at 2:00 pm
© Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

IOWA (6-3) VS. MINNESOTA (4-4)

DATE: December 9, 2019
TIME: 7:00 p.m. CT
LOCATION: Carver Hawkeye Arena
RADIO: Learfield Sports
LINE: Iowa -6
KENPOM: Iowa -6 (Iowa 71% win probability)

After last week's offensive explosion -- at both ends of the court -- in Ann Arbor, the Hawkeyes return to action against Minnesota Monday night at Carver Hawkeye Arena.  Tip off is set for 7 p.m. local time, with television coverage on BTN.

The Gophers are adjusting to life without Jordan Murphy, who finally graduated after seventeen seasons on the team, and Amir Coffey, who left early for the NBA.  Small forward Dupree McBrayer also graduated, leaving a pair of freshmen as the only returning starters on the 2019-20 Gophers: Center Daniel Oturu (6'10", 240) and shooting guard Gabe Kalscheur (6'4", 200, 12.1 ppg). 

Richard Pitino has worked the transfer market to fill the rest of the lineup.  Pitt transfer Marcus Carr (6'2", 195, 14.4 ppg, 6.6 apg) has moved into the starting point guard position after sitting a year.  Carr has become arguably the most important player on the roster.  He was second in the ACC in assist rate as a freshman, and has brought that distribution ability to Minneapolis, coupled with scoring ability from everywhere.  Carr posted 24 points and 9 assists in a win over Clemson last week, the fifth time this season that he's posted a 15/5 or better. 

Another transfer, junior Payton Willis (6'4", 200, 12.0 ppg), came in from Vanderbilt and has taken over at small forward.  While Willis has been inconsistent as a scorer this season, he's shooting 38 percent from three; he and Kalscheur (37% from three) provide enough firepower from the perimeter to keep defenses honest.  Willis is also versatile enough to play either of the guard positions, which allows Pitino to bring in freshman Tre Williams (6'5", 195) to go big in the backcourt when he wants.

On the front line, Drexel transfer Alihan Demir (6'9", 235, 7.1 ppg) has moved directly into the lineup at power forward.  Demir isn't lighting it up on offense, but he rebounds well enough (4.0 rpg) and can make an open jumper (4/11 from three).  But the story remains Oturu, who was a problem last season and has only become more difficult post-Murphy.  Oturu leads the Gophers in scoring (17.5 ppg), rebounding (10.9 rpg) and blocked shots (3.4 bpg).  He's shooting 67 percent on two-point attempts, draws more than five fouls per 40 minutes, and is among the best defensive rebounders in the country.

So how is Minnesota just 4-4?  It's mostly because teams know that (a) Oturu is going to get his numbers no matter what, and (b) he can only play about 30 minutes a game, and Minnesota is vulnerable when he's not there.  Consider this: The Gophers lost three straight games away from home in early November.  In those three games, Oturu averaged 20 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.  In two of the three, losses to Butler and Utah, Oturu was the Kenpom game MVP while playing for a losing team.  But when Oturu goes to the bench, Minnesota is forced to move Demir to the five and play Jarvis Omersa (6'6", 235) at the power forward.  Without Oturu to demand attention, the outside shots that are the true key to Minnesota's offense dry up.  Throw in that Minnesota is really only good at one thing defensively -- blocking shots -- and that's almost exclusively because of Oturu, and you've got a one-man show in desperate need of a second player.

The danger for Iowa comes from two sources, one familiar and one exclusive to this game.  First, this team loses when Joe Wieskamp doesn't score, and while there's nothing particular to Minnesota that would make it less likely that Wieskamp will find the basket tonight, it doesn't mean that he will regardless.

The second danger is more problematic: Iowa is also a one-man show built around the center at the moment, and while The Peacock was certainly flying in Ann Arbor, he has struggled against the physical big men he's faced this year.  San Diego State threw Mensah and Wetzell at Garza and limited him to nine points.  Paul Reed from DePaul harassed Garza enough to make him inefficient, if not wholly ineffective.  Iowa lost both of those games.  Oturu is bigger and stronger than any of those guys.  So while this looks like a favorable scenario for Iowa, victory is hardly guaranteed.

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