Go-to guy Rickert not making shots

Anthony Maggio

Minnesota forward Rick Rickert needs to shoot the basketball more.

Sure, the Gophers (12-7, 4-4 Big Ten) have plenty of options on the offensive end, but only one comes with a coaches’ pick as preseason Big Ten player of the year tag – Rickert.

But making a few more of the shots he already takes wouldn’t hurt the Gophers go-to guy either.

Coach Dan Monson would like to see Rickert’s shooting percentage go up starting Saturday against first-place Purdue (15-4, 7-1).

“If you’re going to be the go-to guy, some of them have to go in,” Monson said.

Despite higher expectations and a year of experience, Rickert’s numbers haven’t changed much.

His scoring average is nearly identical to last season at 14.5 points per game. His shots per game (11.7) are up only 1.7 from a year ago.

Rickert’s shooting percentage, on the other hand, is down to .432 from .505 last season, which Monson said makes it seem like Rickert doesn’t get enough touches.

“He needs a game where he goes over 50 percent,” Monson said. “He’s shooting around 40 percent for the year. He was 5-for-12 (against Ohio State). If he goes 8-for-12, now he’s had plenty of touches.”

To Rickert’s credit, defenses have targeted him all season. He gets double-teamed constantly in the post, and zones couldn’t collapse faster around him with TNT.

“We (forced the ball) a little too much in the beginning of the season when we lost a couple of games where we put everything on Rick’s shoulders,” guard Kevin Burleson said. “It’s hard when he’s getting double-teamed, and he’s tired sometimes. He’s not going to be able to hit every shot.”

Illinois’ Brian Cook, the media’s pick for preseason player of the year in the conference, has dealt with similar issues.

Cook, who was expected from the beginning of the season to lead the Illini, has responded well.

His scoring average is up almost eight points a game from last year, and he’s taking nearly four more shots a game than last season.

But Cook’s most impressive number is his shooting percentage, up to .542 this season from .509 last year.

While Cook’s touches have gone up, Rickert’s have stayed the same or gone down.

After scoring with 6:44 left in Wednesday’s loss to Ohio State, Rickert didn’t shoot again until heaving two desperation threes with less than 20 seconds left.

It was a far cry from the Gophers’ previous Wednesday night road game at Penn State when Rickert was the focus in the final minute and hit four free throws to win the game by a point.

“The first thing I think about (late in a game) is trying to find Rick on a post up or in position to score,” Burleson said. “But in a zone, it’s not as easy because Rick can’t post up.”

Ohio State’s zone defense kept the ball out of Rickert’s hands as he struggled to get himself open and often floated out to the perimeter.

Monson doesn’t want Rickert to just get more touches or take more shots, however.

“I want him to get shots he’s going to make,” Monson said. “I want him to get the ball where he’s going to have success.”

Rickert could get some better looks Saturday when first-place Purdue comes to Williams Arena.

The Boilermakers run an almost exclusive man-to-man defense, so Rickert should get some inside looks without having to be force-fed the ball.

More inside looks could amount to a better shooting percentage, which could lead to more touches for the Playboy preseason All-American.

“The higher a percentage he’s shooting, the more you want to get him the ball,” Monson said. “We’ve got to have him. He’s our go-to guy.”