Minnesota (7-13; 1-9) visits the RAC on Wednesday night (8:30 pm, BTN) to take on Rutgers (14-7; 6-4). The Gophers bring plenty of injury issues with them to Piscataway. Their leading scorer, Dawson Garcia, has missed the past two games after injuring his right ankle against Michigan on January 22. Head coach Ben Johnson said on Tuesday that he remains a game-time decision.
Ben Johnson said today that leading scorer Dawson Garcia’s improving and continues to do work on the court, but he’s a game-time decision for #Gophers Wednesday at Rutgers. Big man Treyton Thompson will play but suffered broken nose and will wear a protective mask @StribSports
— Marcus R. Fuller (@Marcus_R_Fuller) January 31, 2023
Garcia leads Minnesota with 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds, along with 1.8 assists in 30.6 minutes per game. He’s shooting 44.7% from the floor, 32.3% from three-point range, and 71.6% from the foul line. The Gophers offense runs through the 6″11″ Garcia, who can stretch the floor with his versatile skill set. The North Carolina and Marquette transfer
While his injury is not serious, he is not being rushed back. Whether he plays against Rutgers on Wednesday night remains to be seen.
After Saturday’s 20 point loss at Northwestern, Johnson explained that Garcia wasn’t comfortable making moves off of his right foot.
“We’re going to be really smart with that,” Johnson said. “He couldn’t do it. I’d rather be overly cautious with it, so that when he comes back, he’s able to finish the year. We’ll see what he’s got for Wednesday [at Rutgers].”
Dealing with injuries is something Minnesota is used to. Frontcourt players Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen suffered season ending ACL injuries during summer workouts.
Guard Braeden Carrington is out for an extended period due to a stress reaction with his right leg. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 21.9 minutes per game, but hasn’t played in over two weeks.
Freshman Pharrel Payne returned against Northwestern after missing a game due to concussion protocols. He is averaging 7.0 points on 67.5% shooting, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in 21.8 minutes per game.
And then second leading scorer Jamison Battle, who has stepped up in Garcia’s absence with back to back 20 point games, is playing through a back injury. He also missed the first four games of the season following foot surgery.
In addition, Wednesday’s game at the RAC will be the sixth game in 16 days for Minnesota.
With all that being said, there is zero reason for Rutgers to take the last place Gophers lightly. And they don’t have to look far to realize why.
Last season, RU visited Minnesota, who were missing three starters and only had the league minimum requirement of seven scholarship players. They ended up losing anyway 68-65. It was a damaging defeat that would have been mourned forever had the Scarlet Knights not recovered by beating four ranked opponents in a row and advancing to the a second straight NCAA Tournament.
The good news is Payton Willis, who scored a career high 32 points in the victory, is out of eligibility. Although they will remember reserve center Treyton Thompson, who is back and will wear a mask over his newly broken nose. He’s averaging just 2.1 points and 2.4 points in 11.5 minutes per game. However he delivered 10 points and 6 rebounds in Minnesota’s shorthanded upset victory over Rutgers last season at the Barn.
Rutgers comes home after a deflating 93-82 loss at Iowa on Sunday. The game against Minnesota is an opportunity to get back on track at the RAC. Despite the disappointing performance against the Hawkeyes, RU is in a good spot. They’re currently tied in third place in the Big Ten after playing the hardest first half of the schedule in the league. Steve Pikiell’s team is No. 17 in KenPom and No. 22 in the NET rankings. The consensus projection for the Scarlet Knights by the bracketologists is as a No. 5 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
As a decades long Rutgers fan, I can honestly say all of this makes me nervous. That’s not fair to this current team, but feelings are feelings. This is the last quad 4 game on the schedule and they’re close to avoiding any resume landmines this season.
Minnesota has nothing to lose. Being a wounded team also makes them a dangerous team. Their one win in Big Ten play came at Ohio State, a place RU has never won. And if Garcia does play, it will give his team an emotional lift. Without him and just seven scholarship players, the Gophers led red hot Indiana in the final minute plus last week before losing by 4 points. The Scarlet Knights are also playing on just two days between games along with a reported delayed arrival from Iowa City on Monday. This is the Big Ten, there are no easy games.
All of that being said, Rutgers is a double digit favorite for a reason. They’re still No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency and have held 12 of 14 opponents to their season scoring low at the RAC. The top six players for RU all experienced the loss at Minnesota last season. Motivation will be there to not allow the same thing to happen twice. This team has played with a togetherness and toughness all season. They’ve been through plenty of adversity and never back down. And of course, the RAC is the RAC.
Don’t confuse long term trauma with doubt. I believe in this team fully and think they’ll win on Wednesday night. It’s a get well game and Rutgers is the better team. It’s also not a road game like last year. However, I suspect other fans will be going through the same anxious game day rituals they normally do but perhaps a bit more than usual.
For a complete game preview, click here.
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