While the Gophers men’s basketball team faces a second consecutive ranked opponent Sunday, Minnesota should have more ample opportunities to score against No. 19 Iowa than they had against No. 5 Michigan on Tuesday.
The Hawkeyes are 13th of 14 Big Ten teams in points allowed per game (72.7) and 11th in opponent field-goal percentage (43.8) coming into Sunday’s 4 p.m. game at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (14-5, 4-4) lost 59-57 on a buzzer-beater to the Wolverines — and their Big Ten’s top scoring defense — on the road Tuesday. Returning to the Barn puts added importance on the Hawkeyes game.
“Big emphasis,” freshman U guard Gabe Kalscheur said Saturday.
Minnesota is 9-1 at home this season, and Sunday’s game could be the first home game with center Eric Curry in the starting lineup. For the first time this year, Gophers coach Richard Pitino voluntarily changed the starting lineup against Michigan.
Pitino went with Curry’s experience on the road, especially defensively, over freshman Daniel Oturu, who started the first 18 games. With Curry’s season-high 30 minutes, the Gophers were able to outrebound the Wolverines 43-33 and hold them to 34 percent shooting.
The Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-4) were on a five-game winning streak before an 82-67 loss to No. 6 Michigan State on Thursday. Iowa has been led by 6-foot-9 forward Tyler Cook at 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as well as 6-11 center Luke Garza, who’s putting up 14.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.
“Cook and Garza are terrific,” Pitino said.
The Gophers’ close loss to Michigan provided some damage control on their NET ranking, which is a primary factor in determining this year’s NCAA tournament field. After falling from 48th to 66th with the 95-68 dismantling by Illinois on Jan. 16, Minnesota has since nudged back up to 61st. A win over a ranked Hawkeyes team would help Minnesota’s NET even more.