Let us take a break from the world of Gopher football and begin examining the upcoming Gopher basketball season. Obviously, enthusiasm is extremely low for this season, with only two returning starters and a whole slew of roster turnover. However, just because we have been picked to finish near the bottom of the conference by multiple publications doesn't mean we should completely ignore the upcoming season. Due to the very fluid state of the roster from graduation, transfers in and out, and incoming freshman, one thing that has stood out in my mind is the somewhat uncertain nature pertaining to the starting five for the 2015-2016 season. With this in mind, please refer to the tweet below:
Richard Pitino said if he had a starting lineup right now it would be Mason, Morris, Buggs, King and Konate #Gophers— Marcus R. Fuller (@GophersNow) October 2, 2015
Now, obviously without having held a single in-season practice (at the time this was tweeted), it's impossible to take too much away from this quote. But it does make for an interesting conversation. Let's break down each player mentioned in the tweet and the state of the position we assume he will fill.
Nate Mason, Sophomore - Nate Mason was one of the few bright spots during last year's disappointing campaign. Mason averaged 26.1 minutes per game, an impressive chuck of time considering he was a freshman playing behind Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins at both the point guard and shooting guard positions. He is the presumptive starter at the PG position, splitting time with uber-talented freshman Kevin Dorsey. This is purely speculation on my part but I could see the two eventually getting around even time if Dorsey's supposed talent comes to fruition on the court. Furthermore, Mason already appears to be dealing with multiple injuries, including off season surgery on his thumb and a more recent bone bruise to his knee. If he misses time due to these health issues, Dorsey could make a positive impression and steal more minutes than originally expected. Mason was under recruited out of high school for a reason. This isn't meant to take away from Nate because I think he's a good player who could easily be our best all-around starter this year. But if Dorsey is truly as talented as we have been led to believe, he could take over the position in due time.
Carlos Morris, Senior - Ah yes, the glorious chucker known by some as "Squirrel." I mean, I'll be forever indebted to Carlos for his contributions to one of the few positive memories of the 2014-2015 season but to be frank, he'll probably be our leading scorer this season and that won't be a good thing. He's a true volume scorer who puts up a lot of shots that vary in quality. Measuring in at 6'5" though, he did have quality moments implementing the press on defense that promised an ability to force opposing offenses into multiple turnovers. Falling in behind Morris will be freshmen Dupree McBrayer and Ahmed Gilbert. There are high hopes for McBrayer, who appears to be a versatile guard with a wide variety of above average skills. Gilbert, meanwhile, is primarily a threat to shoot from outside (as a shooting guard should be). If Morris falls into one of his pop-a-shot modes where nothing is falling, Pitino might use a quick hook since there appears to be available depth at the position.
Charles Buggs, Redshirt Junior - One of the more enigmatic returning players on the roster, Buggs has always teased us with moments of athletic brilliance. Sadly, the consistent message out of practice by the coaches was he was always a little slow to pick up the offensive and defensive schemes which limited his playing time last year to just 13.2 minutes per game. His length would be an asset to the press and since the Gophers lack viable options at the small forward position, Buggs appears to be in line for a lion's share of the minutes. However, as is the case with the point guard position, there is a talented and intriguing freshman waiting in the wing (haha, get it?). Jordan Murphy was originally signed up to play for Shaka Smart at VCU. When Smart moved on to take the Texas job, Murphy was released from his letter of intent and eventually committed to Minnesota. If a guy was recruited to play in Smart's system at VCU, there is no doubt in my mind he is a perfect fit for Coach Pitino's vision at Minnesota. Word out of Spain was that Murphy looked very talented and was consistently playing above the rim. If Buggs continues to struggle with defensive assignments and Murphy continues to impress, this could be a situation to monitor going forward.
Joey King, Senior - For better or worse, it appears that Joey King will be the starting power forward for your 2015-2106 Golden Gophers. The word is he has put on some solid weight in the off-season and currently registers in around 240 pounds in order to provide a more consistent defensive presence in the post against larger, stronger power forwards. One would assume that the first option off the bench to provide a breather for Joey would be sophomore Gaston Diedhiou. Though now with the injury to sophomore Bakary Konate, he appears to be the favorite to start at center (discussed below). Due to Reggie Lynch and Devonte Fitzgerald sitting out the year due to NCAA regulations regarding transfer students, the front court appears to be extremely thin in depth. Charles Buggs, will have to provide necessary relief at the four from time to time due to a lack of size among upperclassmen currently on the Gophers' roster. Konate's injury will further deplete the depth of the front court.
Gaston Diedhiou, Sophomore - Unfortunately, the injury to Konate is going to really hurt the depth of the front court. While he is only expected to be out a month, a player at his current stage of development could be significantly hindered by missing this time leading up to the start of the season. Hopefully, there are no set backs in his recovery and the foot issue does not become a recurring one in the future. Meanwhile, this thrusts Gaston into the starting role of center. I personally believe this is a bit of a problem for a couple of reason. One, Diedhiou is slightly undersized as a center, measuring in 6' 9" and 240 pounds per the Gopher Sports roster. Two, after watching the games last year and listening to the coach speak during the off season, it seemed that Konate was slightly ahead of Gaston development-wise. Both players are still relatively unknown quantities outside of their size and natural athleticism but it would appear for the time being that Konate's injury not only hurts our depth but our projected starting lineup in general.
Brief Overall Summary
The starting lineup has two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores. In this regard, the team doesn't appear to be overly youthful. However, when examining the projected two-deep at all five positions, the youth of the roster is more evident. The assumed backups at each spot are composed of four true freshman and one sophomore, depending upon if Murphy sees time at the three and four spots. This is simultaneously worrisome and exciting. For the 2015-2016 season, it will probably mean a lot of "learning moments" that play themselves out on the court as horrific turnovers, poor shot selection, and missed defensive assignments leading to easy baskets for the opponent. For seasons beyond this upcoming one, it could mean great experience to begin building a foundation for rosters with more perceived talent. The overall atheleticism at every position has definitely been increased. And now, with the exception of Charles Buggs (though he was re-recruited by Pitino) and Joey King (a trasnfer utilized seemingly out of necessity), every player on the roster is Pitino's preferred type of player and was intentionally recruited by his staff.
We all admit that this upcoming season will probably get really ugly but at least there will be some exciting new faces to acclimate ourselves to before the incoming loaded 2016 class arrives on campus. It may seem crazy but just going over the starters has already got me interested to see how this supposed "lost season" will play out on paper.