I've spent a lot of time looking over the Gopher's resume and where we sit on the Bubble lately. But I think it is time for a break and it has been a while since we have talked about the state of Gopher basketball recruiting.
I think this recruiting discussion makes the most sense (at least in my mind) to talk about the roster turnover, how it relates to the incoming talent, what holes are left to be filled and what does the future hold for Gopher Basketball recruiting.
Richard Pitino came to the Gophers intending to play a different brand of basketball. He wants to play an up-tempo offense with a pressure defense that creates turnovers and leads to transition offense. Unfortunately he inherited a roster that was more built for the physical and possession-by-possession style of the Big Ten. So he does what most new coaches do, they begin to transition the roster to athletes who better fit his style of play. What is interesting is just how fast that transition is happening.
Over the last several weeks the Gophers have had two scholarship players leave the team for unrelated reasons freeing up scholarships. When you add those names to the list of scholarship athletes who either graduated last year or transferred out during the offseason you get a roster that has had 54% turnover in less than 12 months. And if you look at Tubby Smith's season ending roster to what will be Richard Pitino's season ending roster you get 69% turnover in exactly one year. New coaches transitioning their roster composition to fit their new style of play is nothing new, but that is a pretty quick transition. By comparison, at the end of this season Northwestern will still have over 50% of their scholarship roster from the one Coach Bill Carmody finished with.
Andre Hollins, Elliott Eliason, Mo Walker and Charles Buggs will be the only four players from the Tubby Era when this season is complete. We will of course have others returning from THIS year so it is not like next season will be completely different and new. But it isn't taking very long for Pitino to begin getting "his guys" taking up the bulk of our allotted 13 scholarships.
So who are the new names filling up the Pitino-stamped roster?
I find this particular class interesting as it seems to directly replace departing seniors, particularly those who get playing time, with a player who seems to have a skill-set to fill a specific need. Not exactly a one-for-one where we can expect that Carlos Morris will be taking all 32.5 minutes per game that we currently get from Austin Hollins, but each incoming player appear to be a guy who will be capable of filling voids on the team that we either currently have or will have upon eligibility expiration of current players.
SF/SG - Carlos Morris
As I alluded, I expect that Morris is the guy who we can expect to fill the void that will be left by the departing Austin Hollins. Morris is a scoring wing who will step into the program with more experience and physical maturity than an incoming freshman. I do think he'll play significant minutes immediately and may even start from game one. Out of high school Morris was a top 100 player who committed to South Carolina who currently is averaging 14.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for a talented JUCO team who just won the Florida state championship. He is a guard who can shoot and has good length. He is athletic, he can handle the ball, he rebounds and he is a decent defender. Seems like a perfect fit in the Pitino system.
PG/SG - Nate Mason
This year's team was missing a true, back-up point guard. And next year's team will be missing a guy like Malik Smith who can be relied upon as a scorer off the bench. Mason just may be able to fill both of these roles. Mason is a 6-1 scoring guard in a point guard's body.
Mason can flat out get buckets. He is confident and plays in full attack mode on the offensive end of the floor. Mason gets to the rim on the break or can stop and pop for three on a dime. Mid range pull ups from the crossover, rythum dribble jumpers with three point range. Mason makes scoring look easy.
Certainly appears to have the ability to back up Mathieu as an attacking and quick point guard, but also will provide some scoring punch that will be lost with the loss of Smith. Again, filling a specific need while upgrading the team's quickness and athleticism.
PF - Josh Martin
Martin is a strong, 6-8 forward. When Martin signed the Gophers were not planning on losing a PF but that doesn't mean he isn't filling a specific void. This is the position of weakness for the Gophers and Martin has been brought in to fill this need. We now possess a kid with good strength who physically should be ready for the Big Ten and he is a player with very good athleticism.
Martin possesses a terrific frame with long arms and he's an outstanding athlete. He runs very well and can finish with a thunderous dunk at the other end. He can step out and knock down the 18-foot jump shot with regularity and he gets good lift on it.
I suspect that the coaching staff will have more trust in Joey King but Martin will get minutes off the bench and will give opponents something different to have to defend. Added depth, increased athleticism and a more dynamic athlete at a position of need. Another addition that appears to have been very specific and targeted.
But I don't think the coaching staff is finished with their 2014 recruiting. With the departures of Oto Osenieks and Wally Ellenson, they now have three scholarships available still to use this year. And they have four more for the following year giving them 10 total over a 2-year span.
- 3 - signed for 2014
- 3 - still available to utilize (now or later)
- 4 - available for 2015
I would imagine that to get the rosters balanced you may see a JUCO player signed again next year and maybe one of the 7 remaining scholarships they "could" use over this year or next will be banked for 2016.
But the staff is still pursuing talent in the class of 2014 and there are three names who have surfaced in recent weeks as their primary targets.
A 6-9 forward who is originally from Senegal, currently playing his high school ball in Alabama. Gueye is an athletic forward who can defend, rebound, block shots and apparently has a smooth shooting stroke.
"He's the new hybird '4' man that can run the floor, handle it, shoot the jump shot and defend multiple positions," (head coach, Donovan) Broadnax said. "That's what most of the college guys that are recruiting him say about him."
His only visit has been to Minnesota but he is being pursued by Auburn, the local UAB, Memphis, Texas Tech and others.
6-11 center from Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. The Gopher staff discovered Konate when they were heavily pursuing PG-Tum Tum Nairn and Konate has had an offer since this summer. He also has visited Minnesota but has yet to make a decision.
SF out of Washington state who does not yet have an actual Gopher offer. Piper is a very athletic wing who is good in transition, has long arms and outstanding quickness. He is deciding from among Minnesota, Gonzaga and Washington. Piper's Rainier Beach team recently finished their season undefeated winning their third consecutive state title on with Piper hitting the game-winning shot. Another player with great athleticism and quickness.
Going forward there is a lot more work to do.
My thesis on the Pitino style of play is that I believe it is going to be very difficult, particularly recruiting the guys he wants, in the early years. In order for this system to succeed, especially in a highly competitive and talented conference like the Big Ten, you absolutely have to have players who are very athletic AND skilled basketball players. His previous stops at Louisville and Florida, they were able to attract players who were both but that will likely be more challenging here.
The 2006 National Championship team for Florida was #2 nationally in eFG% while also being a great defensive team. The 2007 team was #1 in eFG%. Effective FG% is not the only measure for a team's skilled-ness but I'm using it to demonstrate that these elite teams, that we often use as an example of what Pitino is trying to do here, were not just full of uber-athletes who won by playing fast and creating havoc. That is part of the plan, but to really succeed at this level you need both.
And this is where things are going to be challenging in the early years. Pitino is going to have to find players who are known for their athleticism and he is going to have to identify those who will develop into skilled and intelligent players to compliment their quickness and explosiveness. Djuan Piper is a great example of a kid who is very athletic, will probably be a good defender but needs to refine the finer points of his game.
Guys who already have both, it will be very difficult to get them to come to Minnesota but the staff appears to really put in the time and effort to go after some of the bigger name recruits. Tum Tum Nairn, Isaiah Whitehead and Reid Travis are three examples of kids who considered the Gophers till the very end. All three were 4 or nearly 5-star talented kids who would fit the mold of being both athletic AND skilled. In the end we were close but with limited tim to build relationships and with limited experience coaching at this level we missed on this caliber of player this year. But I do appreciate and want to recognize that the staff is going after the big names and any year they may land one or two. When that was unsuccessful they identified and landed kids who fit into the category of highly athletic with the hope of developing into more. With basketball it often only takes one or two to make a significant difference.
I am pleased with the current 2014 recruiting class and I'm excited to see if they can parlay what has been a season of surpassing expectations into recruiting success in the class of 2015.