IOWA CITY Big Ten foes no longer can consider Minnesota a rebuilding program. Based on Thursday's 10-point win against Ohio State, the Gophers now have reloaded and are potent.
Under new coach Richard Pitino, Minnesota (14-4, 3-2 Big Ten) has raised eyebrows in Big Ten play. The Gophers' only league losses were in overtime at Michigan State and by three points to Michigan the Big Ten's current co-leaders. Minnesota doesn't rest atop its customary perch at the league's rebounding kings, but it leads the Big Ten in free-throw percentage and steals. That doesn't mean Minnesota can't throw down in the post, either.
The Gophers dominated No. 11 Ohio State on the boards, 39-24, and outscored the Buckeyes 38-20 in the paint. Center Elliott Eliason an afterthought under former coach Tubby Smith became a team captain this week and promptly scored 11 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Eliason ranks second in Big Ten rebounding at 8.9 per game.
"The big guys for them have been very effective," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "Eliason, (Oto) Osenieks, Joey King, those guys have been really good because Osenieks and King can make 3s, which stretches the defense even more. And Eliason has been impressive to me. His ability to run the floor and be mobile and still be big and effect the game with his shot blocking and scoring the ball. (Maurice) Walker was hurt and now he's in the best shape of his life."
Minnesota boasts among the league's quickest tandem of guards in junior Andre Hollins and junior-college transfer DeAndre Mathieu. Hollins, a third-team all-Big Ten selection last year, shifted from the point to off-guard with Mathieu's emergence. Hollins averages a team-high 15.9 points a game and ranks second in assists and 3-pointers.
"He can get his own or he can shoot off the catch or shoot off the screen," McCaffery said. "He can score in bunches. But I think Mathieu has made a big difference in taking pressure off both the Hollins and getting in the ball. Those two guys are really playing well. I think a lot of the reason is because of Mathieu."
Hollins' skills are no mystery to Iowa senior guard Devyn Marble. The two competed with one another last summer in tryouts for Team USA's under-19 squad. Marble said he'll likely match up with Hollins much of the time Sunday.
"He presents a lot of challenges," Marble said. "He's a guy that can really shoot the ball. He's a very good scorer so he can drive. He can create for others. They've got him playing more the two this year with Mathieu at the point. He's pressuring the ball a lot more than he did when he was with Tubby, so I think they utilize him in a lot of different ways to help him out.
"It will be a challenge. But like I always said, it's definitely a battle I'm looking forward to and he is, too."
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