Why are DePaul and Minnesota an ideal matchup for Monday’s Big Ten versus Big East Gavitt Tipoff Games clash in Minneapolis?
For starters, neither team has been saddled with high expectations this season. Big East coaches picked the Blue Demons to wind up last in their league while the media pegged the Gophers to finish 12th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten.
Next, both teams are missing two key components to their rotations. Minnesota has been without preseason second-team All-Big Ten honoree Jamison Battle since Oct. 28 due to minor foot surgery and ballyhooed freshman guard Braeden Carrington has yet to play as well.
DePaul doesn’t have starting center Nick Ongenda, who injured his left wrist the day before the season opener, and starting point guard Caleb Murphy — who won’t be back until after Thanksgiving due to surgery on his wrist.
Nonetheless, both squads enter Monday’s game optimistic after posting 2-0 records on their home floors last week.
Without Battle and Carrington, Minnesota head coach Ben Johnson has relied on an eight-man rotation that features three freshmen and former walk-on Will Ramberg. All three freshmen — forwards Jaden Henley, Pharrel Payne and Joshua Ola-Joseph — scored in double figures during Friday’s 72-54 win over St. Francis Brooklyn.
With highly-touted North Carolina transfer Dawson Garcia saddled with foul trouble and limited to 17 minutes, the freshmen combined for 40 points on 15-of-21 shooting from the field and 8 of 9 from the foul line.
“They just continue to get better and better each time they play,” Johnson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Everybody in the locker room knows what they’re capable of and we’re very excited for them. You saw a glimpse of it (Friday night).”
DePaul, meanwhile, has been riding a pair of Big 12 transfers in Iowa State’s Javan Johnson (19.0 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game) and Oklahoma’s Umoja Gibson (18.0 ppg, 7.0 assists per game). They’ve each hit 6 of 11 shots from 3-point range.
Gibson was particularly effective on Friday during the Blue Demons’ 86-74 win against Western Illinois with 24 points and eight assists in 24 minutes. He missed just two shots and committed just one turnover.
The Blue Demons will need these veterans to bring their experience of playing in hostile environments if they’re going to snap the Gophers’ 16-game home winning streak against non-Big Ten foes.
“‘Mo’ brings a lot of things to the table,” DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield said. “He can defend. He’s got great leadership skills. It’s going to be a physical game like most Big Ten teams play. It’s definitely going to be a major challenge for us.”
–Field Level Media