B1G Basketball Preview: Minnesota

Story posted November 13, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Brad Wakai

The Minnesota Golden Gophers finished their 2014-2015 season with an 18-15 record and no postseason tournament bids. After a disappointing second year under head coach Richard Pitino, the Golden Gophers are going to have to rely on a young roster to get back into postseason basketball play.

Key Returning Players

Minnesota has to rely on senior guard Carlos Morris, sophomore guard Nate Mason and senior forward Joey King to lead the team in the 2015-2016 season. All three players played in every game and should find themselves comfortable in the starting lineup immediately, taking over the roles left by the starters last season.

Pitino says sophomore center Bakary Konate is a possible starter this season. Konate is listed at 6’ 11” 235 pounds and played 25 games last year as a freshman. Pitino expects his defense to improve and would like to see a little more muscle added to increase his weight to 245 pounds before the season starts.

Other names to look out for are sophomore forward Gaston Diedhiou, who Pitino says will have a huge role, and junior forward Charles Buggs. Both forwards are listed at 6’ 9” and weighing 230 to 240 pounds.

Key Losses

The Golden Gophers lose their three most important players from last year’s roster. Andre Hollins and Maurice Walker were lost to graduation, while Deandre Mathieu was suspended. Hollins led the team in scoring, minutes played, and three pointers and he was one of two players to start every game. Mathieu led the team in assists and Walker led the team in blocks and rebounds.

Elliott Eliason was a role playing center who also graduated last year along with Daquein McNeil and Kendal Shell who didn’t see the floor much.

Offensive/Defensive Notes

Minnesota was ranked 33rd in the country with 74.2 points per game due to the fact they had about 15 assists per game, good enough for 15th in the country.

Defense and high ball pressure is a staple of Pitino’s defense and it paid off with an average of 9.5 steals a game last year and holding opponents to 67.7 points per game.

Non-Conference Schedule

The non-conference schedule of the Golden Gophers is highlighted by a trip down to San Juan, Puerto Rico where they face off against Temple in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

Minnesota is matched up against Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in their home arena. Clemson is known for its scrappy and intense defensive pressure, so this will be a good test for Pitino’s team to see how if they are able to grind out a win.

Another notable non-conference game is a home contest against Oklahoma State which could go a long way to boost a potential resume the Golden Gophers might have if they want to get to the tournament.

Conference Schedule

Minnesota gets into conference play with tough games immediately against Ohio State and Michigan State. There are six AP Top 25 teams in the Big Ten (Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan) and Minnesota lands all six on its schedule.

The stretch of Minnesota’s schedule that will have the most impact on whether they are eligible for the NCAA tournament is the month of January because the Golden Gophers are matched up against many talented teams.

The home slate for Minnesota consists of Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, but they will also see Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Rutgers in the home/away series.

Coach’s Hot Seat

I’m fairly positive Richard Pitino’s job is safe as head coach of Minnesota’s basketball program. His team won the NIT Tournament two years ago and even though last year was an underwhelming season, it seems Pitino is starting to build a program capable of success.

Predictions

I don’t think Minnesota will be a good team this year. They will have to rely on youth and a player who’s never been the best player on a team at the collegiate level to end up on NCAA brackets in March. Golden Gopher fans should be incredibly happy with 23 wins, but a more realistic number and my prediction is another 18-win season. If they want to get to March, they will have to win the Big Ten tournament and get the automatic bid.

Sophomore guard Nate Mason and senior guard Carlos Morris will both make third team All-Big Ten or be an honorable mention. Mason will be a good player for the Golden Gophers in the upcoming years and this year will be good sign of what’s to come.

 

Brad Wakai is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email brw5202@psu.edu