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Minnesota Gopher Basketball: Hoops Discussion Topics and Thoughts as Summer Ends

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Summer is rapidly coming to a close, students will be moving into their campus housing very soon and really before you know it the basketball season will be upon us.  We have not talked much hoops around here lately.  I want to throw a few things out there, share my thoughts and most importantly open it up for some community discussion.

Summer of Weight Gain

Amelia has had a couple notes posts that highlights the weight being put on my several players on the team.  Carlos Morris has added 20 pounds to help withstand the physical nature of the Big Ten when he attacks the lane.

But Morris promises to bring a much different look to the position than the Gophers had a year ago. The Florida native is not the shooter that Hollins was, but is a much better ball handling and penetrator than his former counterpart.

"You're going to be excited to watch him," Brown said. "It's a different threat, which means he has to be more physical."

The diminutive Deandre Matthieu has added about 23 pounds from last September and has added some strength.

Along with the gain have come increased strength levels for a guard that was already extremely compact. "I do this for a living, so I know when guys move certain weights, they're pretty freakin' strong," Brown said. "And he is one strong dude." Brown also pointed out that Mathieu is among the most flexible and agile on the team as well.

Joey King has added about 20 pounds while also maintaining (or increasing) his quickness and explosiveness.

This summer, King has been working on getting quicker while also putting on bulk. He's added about 20 pounds since last fall, according to strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown. Initially, the staff was concerned the mass would slow him down further; instead it's actually increased his vertical -- these days, King is dunking a lot more in practice.

Daquein McNeil has added 10-12 pounds and some focused strength.  Mo Walker?  He's just been asked to maintain.

Sounds like the team has had some very focused offseason conditioning and strength training.  This is not unusual at this level but I don't recall hearing this much about it during the offseason and certainly not with such individualized plans and results.  You always want to see improvement with each player from year to year, but it will be really interesting just to see how these different body changes will affect each player's game.

Biggest Impact Newcomer

This is actually a tough one.  There are basically three newcomers who are all going to have to play significant roles on this year's team.  I could make an argument for all three and how they will be the most impactful newcomer.

Josh Martin is going to be a fun and explosive power forward who will likely get a lot of minutes off the bench, behind Joey King.  He will add a unique skill set that wasn't on the club last year and should make an impact.

Carlos Morris is the most likely candidate to start in the absence of Austin Hollins and should lead all newcomers in minutes.  He will be more of an attacking wing than a guy who will stretch the floor with this jump shot.  He also is supposed to be very good defensively and should be a key player who plays a lot of minutes.  I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does to help improve the Gophers this year on both ends of the floor.

But I anticipate the biggest impact player to be Nate Mason.  This guy is going to be instant offense off the bench at point or possibly at times as a shooting guard if we can get away with a smaller perimeter lineup.  I loved how Matthieu ran the offense last season and how his game of attacking the lane with unique quickness really opened up the offense at times.  I anticipate Mason to have similar quickness and attacking mentality but will have a bit more height and will be a better scorer from the perimeter.  My vote?  Nate Mason all the way.

Recruiting

After the commitment of four-start point guard Kevin Dorsey the Gopher staff likely has three scholarships available to work with.  The top two targets remain the local kids, Jarvis Johnson (PG/SG) and Alex Illikainen (PF).  I had a chat with Marcus Fuller the other day and he feels pretty good that both end up playing for the good guys at The Barn for their careers.  Landing those two, along with Dorsey, would make for an outstanding class with one scholarship remaining.  I am confident that both of these guys will end up Golden but it is not a certainty.  Both would be great fits here, both are not quite good enough that their recruitment is hitting elite status and both have ties to family  here.  Both just seem like the right fit to be Gophers.

The final scholarship will likely go to a wing and the list of other names to watch are...

  • Chris Clarke - forward out of Virginia, very highly sought after.  Would LOVE to land Clarke!
  • Dupree McBrayer - 6-4 shooting guard out of New Jersey
  • Kipper Nichols - SF from Ohio, Ryan James of GopherIllustrated.com had article today saying we were making him a priority.  I'd just love to have a guy named Kipper on the team (heck of a lot easier to type than Illikainen).
  • Austin Burnette - also from Ryan James, Burnette is a SF who just decommitted from Rutgers and received calls from the Gophers within the hour of the announcement.
  • Nate Grimes - SF out of Nevada, top 150 player
  • Jonathan Nwankwo - strong power forward from Nigeria.  Likely back-up plan to Alex.
  • Maxx Hazard - point guard from California, likely back-up plan to Jarvis
This is shaping up to be a very nice class for Coach Pitino in his second full recruiting cycle.

Projected Starting Line Up

Why not right?

PG - Deandre Matthieu
SG - Andre Hollins
SF - Carlos Morris
PF - Joey King
C - Elliott Eliason

Bench, in order of who gets most minutes

PG - Nate Mason
C - Mo Walker
G/F - DaQuein McNeail
PF - Nate Mason
F - Charles Buggs

Non-Conference Opponents

The schedule has not yet been released but there are ways to find out some of our upcoming non-conference opponents.

  • Louisville - season tip-off in Puerto Rico
  • NIT Preseason tipoff - potential opponents (LIU-Brooklyn, St. Joes, Western Kentucky, Stony Brook, Georgia, Gonzaga and St. Johns.  We'll face one of those first four teams and then if we win, there will be the winner of the other teams playing.
  • Wake Forest - ACC/B1G Challenge
  • Southern
  • North Dakota
  • Furman
  • UNC-Wilmington
  • U Maryland Baltimore County

There should be a total of three, maybe four BCS level opponents on the non-conf schedule.  Louisville is obviously the marquee game, the rest should be winable and hopefully will give a little bump to the strength of schedule.  I know nothing about the others at this time.

Time to Get Defensive

If this team is going to show any significant improvement it is going to have to come on the defensive end.  Offensively I think we will be fine, not a great scoring team but it won't be a huge struggle either.  But we will have to be better at stopping the rest of the Big Ten.  In Big Ten play only we were last in defensive efficiency, 11th in defensive rebounding and 8th in defensive eFG%.

I think Morris is going to be very good defensively.  I think Mason will allow us to not losing anything defensively when he steps on the floor.  I am hoping that Joey King is better based on his work in the offseason.  And I'm expecting more out of a healthy Hollins.

Time will tell but defense is where we need to see the most dramatic improvement.

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What do you guys think?  Really only about 2 months until practices begin and the season tips off in Puerto Rico three months from tomorrow.