Purdue at Gophers: 5 things to watch for

Jace Frederick

The Gophers look to avoid an 0-2 Big Ten hole on Sunday as they take on Purdue. An 0-2 start with a nasty five-game stretch against some of the conference's top opponents looms after Minnesota travels to Penn State on Jan. 8, so the Gophers need to rack up the wins now.

Here are my five things to watch for:

Malik Smith's playing time: On a night when the Gophers struggled to put the ball in the hoop, Smith went 3 for 4 from deep and finished with 12 points in just 17 minutes in Minnesota's loss to Michigan. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said he couldn't get Smith more minutes because of Michigan's length on the perimeter, but if the Gophers struggle to score once again, Minnesota may be forced to get its senior sharpshooter on the court.

Eliason's foul trouble: Elliott Eliason dominated at points against Michigan, and the times he didn't were often because he was on the bench with foul trouble. Foul trouble has been a consistent theme for the Big Easy this season, and the Gophers struggle when he's not on the court. He needs to play well, and play often for Minnesota to compete in the Big Ten.

The return of the Hollins duo: OK, so it's not really a return. The duo did play against Michigan — just not to its normal standard. The two combined to shoot 4 for 19 in the loss on Thursday. Look for that to change today.

The finish: DeAndre Mathieu seemed legitimately disgusted with his turnovers in the waning minutes of the Michigan loss. The Gophers late-game execution certainly left much to be desired. Today's battle also figures to be close at the end, so Minnesota should get a crack and correcting those errors.

Defending Hammons: Purdue center A.J. Hammons is by far the Boilers most-talented player and he presents a big threat on the interior. Defending Hammons with Eliason is one thing, but when the Big Easy is out, can Mo Walker and Minnesota's other big men stick with him?