Iowa Basketball: Get To Know Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa basketball and Minnesota tipoff at 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network this Wednesday.

This is arguably the best Iowa basketball (14-10, 6-5 B10) has looked this season. They’re on their first three-game conference winning streak of the season and have a chance to move to sixth place in the Big Ten with another good week.

The Hawkeyes and Minnesota Golden Gophers (16-7, 4-6 B10) on Wednesday will have a big impact on the conference standings as well as on the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota is currently a 10-seed, according to ESPN, so this would be a quality win for the Hawkeyes and get them closer to being on the bubble.

Minnesota was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball to start the season. Despite entering conference play 12-1, the Gophers are under .500 in the Big Ten and have lost five of their last six. Their 68-59 win over Illinois snapped a five-game losing streak.

Still, this is a huge improvement over last year when Minnesota went 8-23 and only had two conference wins. Although, the Gophers can’t afford another loss as they’re quickly falling onto the bubble and are now far from a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa hasn’t played well against bubble teams or on the road this season, although after earning their first road win last time against Rutgers, the script might have flipped.

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Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Pitino

Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, is now in his fourth season as Minnesota’s head coach after an 18-14 record to start his career with Florida International. In his three-plus seasons with Minnesota, Pitino has compiled a mediocre 67-58 record.

He won 25 games in his first season but has seen a decrease in wins each season. 2016-17 is the first season Minnesota has improved under him after eight wins in 2015-16 and 18 wins in 2014-15. Plus, a Pitino-led Minnesota was ranked for the first time this season when Minnesota climbed to 24th in the AP Poll.

Aside from Minnesota’s 16 wins this season and them likely to break 20 wins for just the eighth time since 1998-99, the Gophers are also averaging their most points per game and allowing their fewest points per game under Pitino at 74.2 and 67.3, respectively. It’s a huge jump from last year when Minnesota only managed to score 68 points per game but allowed 74 points per contest.

It’s a testament to his recruiting, which has seen three four-star recruits over the past two years and another in Isaiah Washington next season, but also Minnesota buying into the culture he instilled.

Even though he’s the son of a legendary coach, Pitino had only been a head coach for one season before taking the Minnesota job. He’s been able to have his players buy into the system and prove he’s one of the young, rising coaches in college basketball. This is the first season he’s getting recognized for it, though.

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Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Players To Watch

Amir Coffey: 12.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.4 FG%, 34.4 3P%

Richard Pitino raved about freshman Amir Coffey before the season, and now we know why. The lengthy 6-8 guard has been one of Minnesota’s best players the whole year and will only continue to improve.

He needs to work on his outside shot, but Coffey thrives on getting into the lane. 66.7 percent of his shots are two-pointers, therefore Iowa will need to do a better job of keeping Coffey out of the lane than when they played Nebraska on Sunday. In fact, Coffey has only attempted more than four three-pointers once this season and shot just 1-of-4 from three when he scored a career-high 30 points against St. John’s.

Coffey is playing some of his best basketball recently with four straight games with double-digit points. He can be streaky at times and five games with five or fewer field-goal attempts is telling of his lack of aggressiveness on offense at times, but Iowa will have a hard time winning if they don’t slow down Coffey.

Nate Mason: 14.0 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 37.5 FG%, 40.2 3P%

Amir Coffey has been great as a freshman, but Nate Mason has been Minnesota’s most consistent player. He has only failed to score 10 points three times this season and leads the team in scoring, assists, steals and minutes played.

That said, he’s extremely inefficient from the field as he only shoots 37.5 percent. In fact, he has shot under 40 percent in four of the past seven games, despite scoring at least 13 points in each of their past three games.

He’s arguably the biggest key to a Minnesota victory, though. Minnesota is 4-2 when he scores at least 15 points and 9-1 when he records at least seven assists and undefeated when he records both. Mason will be a challenge for Big Ten Freshman of the Week Jordan Bohannon, especially with his defense.

He is sixth in the conference in steals per game, even though he hasn’t recorded one in the past two games. Still, Mason has recorded multiple steals in 11 games this season and five against Florida State. Bohannon has taken care of the ball better recently, but still has turnover prone games every once in a while.

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