Season Preview: Minnesota Gophers Men's Basketball 2019-20 Edition
It feels just like yesterday the Gophers men's basketball team was celebrating a first-round NCAA Tournament win over the seventh-seeded Louisville Cardinals in Des Moines. (And then they got killed to Michigan State in the second round, but let's just forget about that. Let's not ruin the moment).
That was now over seven months ago when that happened, and now it is time for a new season of Golden Gopher basketball, and just like every year, I am excited to get the college basketball season underway and start cheering on my Golden Gophers. Are you excited? Oh, you better be! It's college basketball baby!
I am stumped as to how good the Gophers will be this year. I just don't know. It was the same way for the men's hockey team. I cannot tell you. And to be honest, before any season for any given sport, you really cannot say 100 percent how good a team is going to be because you just never know. But you can always gauge a team's talent level and have a descent assumption as to how well a season is going to go.
For this Gopher basketball squad, it could go either way. They could definitely take a step back from last year and have a down year, or just come out lighting it up on the court. I will tell you this however, I think the Minnesota men's basketball team will either be worst or better than last year. No in between, as in they will not be similar to last year. They will either flat out miss the NCAA Tournament finishing with a below .500 record in conference play. Or they will make the NCAA Tournament higher than a 10th seed as we saw them last year.
When you look down the roster, you cannot help but notice the team will be without big name guys like Amir Coffey, who lead the team in scoring, and Jordan Murphy, who was first team All-Big Ten and set a school single-season rebounding record last year. Without these huge impact players, can the Gophers be successful? Well it all comes down to the guys that are returning, and which newcomers can have an immediate impact.
One guy that could help fill the "Murphy" void is the one and only, Daniel Oturu. He made some drastic strides in improving his game over the course of last season. Now in his sophomore year, Oturu can have an even bigger impact this year to help the Gophers inside game.
Last season, Oturu lead Big Ten freshman in rebounding (70), field goal percentage (55.1 percent) and blocks (46). In addition, His rebounding total of 70 put him at second on the team behind only Murphy, and he led the team in blocks and field goal percentage. This guy can play underneath and he can even make some clutch shots.
Another stunning player that I cannot wait to see play again is sophomore Gabe Kalscheur. Let's not forget how well he played against Louisville in last year's NCAA Tournament. He led all players with 24 points, knocking down five huge threes.
Kalscheur was the team's leading three-point shooter (41 percent) and had 16 double-digit scoring games with four games over 20. He is definitely a huge threat from outside the arc and I hope he can improve upon what he did last season. He is a player that could put up a lot points for this Gopher squad and help us advance to a potential Sweet 16 or beyond.
Another player heading into his Sophomore season is Jarvis Omersa. He did not really prove himself to be a scorer last year, but he did show he can be a quality defender. From what I saw out of him last season, he was able to keep up with some of the Big Ten's fastest players getting some nice blocks and creating pressure. If he can step up this season and improve his offensive game, he can be valuable player for this team. He's quick and fast, but needs to utilize those skills for the best by scoring more.
Of course you also have Michael Hurt heading into his senior season, who was just named one of the team captains. Hurt has proven to be a solid depth forward, being able to score while the starters rest to help the Gophers stay in games.
He has been a little disappointing in the sense that he did come to the U as the Minnesota Mr. Basketball runner-up, and he really has not done anything impressive. Hurt can shoot and make threes, but he has struggled against better opponents in the Big Ten. He needs to come out in his last season, and find ways to be a positive impact off the bench in big games.
And then Eric Curry is out indefinitely due to an injury he suffered in the offseason. I do not think he will play this year!
The new guys! These are the players that will make or break this team because there are a total of seven newcomers added to the roster. That is a high number, but some of these players bring some real talent and experience this team so desperately needs.
The Gophers have three transfers joining the team this season with Marcus Carr coming from Pittsburgh, Payton Williis from Vanderbilt and Alihan Demir from Drexel.
Both Carr and Willis sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Carr was actually expected to play last year, but was denied eligibility within a month before the season started. Now a redshirt sophomore, Carr brings in solid point guard experience, something the Gophers were lacking last year. In his freshman year at Pitt, he led the team in assists (129, 4.0 apg) and steals (20) and was the team's third leading scorer averaging 10 points per game.
These stats show one thing, and that is, he is a durable point guard, being able to properly distribute the ball, create plays and score when he needs to. Like I said, the Gophers did not have a consistent/experienced point guard last season and he should fill this role quite nicely. I mean he was named a team captain this year.
As for Willis, now a redshirt junior, he played two seasons as a guard at Vandy where he averaged about 5 points per game in both years. He does not have the numbers like Carr, but he does have solid playing experience in a power-five conference appearing in over 30 games in both seasons at Vandy. This will be good depth to add to Richard's team.
Let's not forget about the other transfer, senior Alihan Demir. Hailing from the country of Turkey, this 6' 9" forward brings great size underneath for this Gopher team. And he brings some strong scoring numbers having been selected to the All-Colonial Athletic Association third team last year, averaging almost 15 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game. Let's make this dude a Turkish basketball legend!
Moving on from the transfers, Minnesota will have four incoming freshman to utilize on the court. The freshmen include four-star power forward, Isaiah Ihnen from the great country of Germany. Wow! We got a guy from Turkey, and now Germany?!?! Fricking sweet man! I think that is a bigger deal than the fact he was ranked the 17th best power forward in the 2019 class. And it is a fairly impressive class head coach, Richard Pitino put together, ranking 37th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten, according to 247sports.com.
Nice job Richard!
The other freshmen consist of point guard Bryan Greenlee, shooting guard Tre' Williams and center Sam Freeman. All three guys ranked within the top 70 for their position in the 2019 class with Williams standing as the 25th best shooting guard in the country. Really hard to say how well these guys will play this season. They come in with good numbers before college, but whether or not they adapt to the Big Ten and the division I ranks is the big question, at least this season.
Let's not forgot about the head coach now. Richard Pitino enters his seventh season as the Golden Gophers head coach. He has a 130-106 career record and is 112-92 at Minnesota. Give Pitino some love and give him a shout out. Twitter handle: @CoachPitinoMN
Minnesota officially opens up the 2019-20 campaign next Tuesday against Cleveland State at Williams Arena. And then they have three straight games away from home against higher-end opponents (Oklahoma, Butler, Utah).
The Gophers do already have playing experience with the current roster defeating Iowa State 77-68 in a closed scrimmage on October 19 and blowing out Southwest Minnesota State 73-48 in an exhibition game on October 28. But we will be able to better gauge how good this team will be once the season starts and the schedule gets tough and tougher.
I love college basketball, and I already cannot wait for March Madness. I want to see Richard's team come out strong and make some heads turn. Raise the Barn!