Finally we get the point where we can preview the 2013-14 Gopher basketball squad. A year ago we knew pretty much knew all there was to know about the Gophers. They were who we thought they were. Andre Hollins was our primary scorer, Trevor Mbakwe was a rebounding machine, Rodney Williams was sometimes brilliant/sometimes invisible, we knew we'd lose to Northwestern on the road after destroying them at home and we were pretty sure they would be an NCAA Tournament caliber team.
Turns out we were pretty much right on. Tubby Smith's last Gopher team was competitive in the Big Ten with a nice upset or two, paired with a few inexcusable losses. They made the NCAA Tournament, won a game as a lower seed and then lost to a 2-seed. No shame in that finish to the season. But the 8-10 conference record, lack of excitement surrounding the program and ultimately a lack of financial support led to the dismissal of Orlando "Tubby" Smith. And the eventual hire of Richard Pitino.
With the hiring of Pitino we now enter this season with a litany of questions. Most things we were fairly certain of last year at this point, this year I'm not sure that I am certain of anything other than uncertainty. We know that we are going to see an entirely new brand of basketball and we know that the roster and rotation are going to appear very different than it did just 12 months ago. I'll start with the roster.
I feel as though we basically only have 2 returning players from last season. This is, of course, not exactly true but considering that we are playing an entirely new system and are asking some of the returners to play this different style I feel as though guys like Maverick Ahanmisi, Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker are going to be entirely different players. Charles Buggs, Oto Osenieks and Wally Ellenson are technically returning players but they were either lightly used or redshirted so they are "like new." Andre (one of the top 50 players in the country) and Austin Hollins, they are sure things in my book and I'm quite confident in the type of production we are going to get from them. Those are the returners in a nutshell, then you have some guys who are actually brand new to the program. Lets take a look at who is gone, and who are the actual newcomers.
NOTE: I am hopefully attending the scrimmage tonight and will have a more detailed player-by-player breakdown.
- Trevor Mbakwe - petitioned for a 13th year of eligibility but his 9-lives of eligibility ran out and Mbakwe had to mvoe on.
- Rodney Williams - also ran out of eligibility and is trying to make the Philadelphia 76ers roster (I hear they think he is really athletic).
- Joe Coleman - transferred out to Saint Mary's.
- Julian Welch - the JUCO transfer ran out of eligibility
- Andre Ingram - did you just ask "Who?", that's not very nice. He graduated.
THE NEW GUYS
- Malik Smith (senior guard) - Florida International transfer who will shoot a LOT of threes, get used to it.
- Joey King (sophomore forward) - Drake transfer, should see immediate playing time in the depleted frontcourt.
- Dre Mathieu - (junior point) - JUCO transfer, tiny and extremely quick.
- DaQuein McNeil (freshman guard) - the only true freshman on the roster.
I expect that you will see three of those names above used prominently this year. But the concerning part here is that you may notice we graduated our starting frontcourt, a wing who often played a forward role and a reserve frontcourt player. The newcomers are mostly guards with one exception. So who is going to play in the frontcourt? This is just one of the many questions we should have as we head into the season with a new staff, new system, new players and new roles for many of the returning players.
Which leads me to the questions portion of today's programming. It is really hard for guague how this team is going to perform because there are just so many questions. Way more questions than knowns with this team.
- Who is going to play in the frontcourt?
- What kind of production are we going to get out of our frontcourt?
- What position will Andre Hollins primarily play?
- How will minutes be distributed?
- Will Pitino's up-tempo system work with the current roster (or better yet, how successful can it be with the current roster)?
- How will the new staff develop players?
- Can we defend in a half-court set?
- Will we be able to rebound in the Big Ten?
- Who will be the team's second scorer?
- How will the new system and work they put into the offseason work out for Eliason and Walker?
- Will Mav see an increased role and be a key member of the rotation?
- Joey King, Oto, Ellenson? What kind of playing time are these guys going to earn and what are we going to get out of them?
- We know Malik Smith will shoot the ball, how will he fit in with the returning backcourt?
I could go on and on. So many questions, and most of them will remain an unknown till we get a few games into the season. Here is what I know, or at least what I am expecting...
- Andre Hollins will have a big year and a total green light. He will shine defensively and will score a lot of points.
- However, Austin Hollins will be the one who benefits the most from the new system. His length, athleticism, ability to play within himself and make shots is going to make him incredibly valuable on both ends of the floor. He will have a lot of steals, a lot of assists and will shoot a decent percentage from three.
- The new system will be a lot of fun to watch, but I expect it will be a big hectic at first. It will take time for this crew to learn to play together and how to play fast without hurrying themselves.
- Malik Smith will be the biggest impact newcomer. This isn't exactly going out on a limb, but they kid will take a ton of threes and will probably be our 2nd leading scorer.
- I'm actually excited to see how Eliason fits into this scheme. If he gets himself into better shape, I can see him thriving in that short-corner making 6-foot jump shots all night. Then he has the size to play defense in the half-court and rebound. He is not terribly athletic and won't be getting the ball on the wing on the break, but I can see him beating his man down the floor once or twice per game.
I'll stop there because I'm about to just start speculating and sharing my hopes and dreams for the season. I am headed to the Barn tonight and will have a more detailed breakdown of the roster at a later date.