The 2016-2017 Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball season is quickly upon us. We threw out some questions to the staff to see what their thoughts were heading into what looks to be an interesting year for the Golden Gophers.
Be honest, are you at all excited to watch this season? Why or why not?
mowe0018: Honestly, I’m really intrigued by the roster. It’s been almost completely rebuilt. When your most experienced player is your point guard, as is the case with Nate Mason and Minnesota, that’s always a decent start. Factor in the steal in recruiting that was Jordan Murphy (and from the sounds of it, Eric Curry), the promise of some interior defense in Reggie Lynch, and the highly ranked talent that is Amir Coffey and you have a lot of good things going for you. If major injury can be avoided by the key components, I honestly see a lot of progress on the court being made purely based on the talent at different positions that wasn’t there last year. I haven’t mentioned Akeem Springs, who if he provides efficiency from behind the three-point line could be an essential cog as well.
The unknown is what is getting me more interested in this season than I probably should be. The Gophers have been picked to wallow near the bottom of the Big Ten standings and the schedule is especially harsh. But for some reason, my interest level is as high as it would be regardless of last year’s results.
GoAUpher: Barely at all, and it really stinks.
zipsofakron: Actually, yes, I am. There is a boatload of untapped talent on this team and, given the amount of close games last year, I’m expecting them to at least get over the hump on occasion and show some growth. Is this a tournament team? Probably not, but the roster is almost entirely different than last year and they’ve done quite a bit of addition by subtraction. And it’s only the beginning for a lot of these guys, with the opportunity to develop a scary core for the future.
UStreet: Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, and Eric Curry sharing the same court. The Gophers have the potential to be a lot of fun this year. There is a ton of talent on this roster. The open question is whether that talent can be effectively coached.
GopherNation: Yes and no. I don’t really have any expectations of a season that ends in an NCAA Tournament game nor do I think we’ll be anywhere near the top third of the Big Ten. But I am excited to watch these kids and see them grow/mature on the court. I think that the combo of Mason/McBrayer/Mason is a really nice core. I like what I think Coffey and Curry are going bring. And hopefully the new faces of Lynch and Springs and add a little bit of punch. I just LOVE college basketball and I hope this team is competitive and entertaining.
What player(s) are you most excited to watch and why?
mowe0018: I’m interested to see how many different things on the court Amir Coffey can do. I’m interested to see if Eric Curry can one up Jordan Murphy’s stellar freshman year last year with even better numbers of his own as a freshman this year. I’m interested to see if Michael Hurt can be a viable 3-point threat. The freshman definitely intrigue me the most. I’m excited to see if with enough talent, Pitino can will this team to exceed expectations. Oh and Reggie Lynch blocking fools. That should be fun.
GoAUpher: Jordan Murphy. I’m really interested to see if he can continue to grow and improve and just how high his ceiling is.
zipsofakron: Reggie Lynch tops the list for me. He’s a blocks maniac and I’m really interested to see what we can do with a competent center. A close second is Amir Coffey, just because it’s been so long since we’ve had an impact freshman we’re looking at to carry some of the water. His development should be exciting.
UStreet: Eric Curry. The Gophers badly needed a post presence that could score and rebound. If Curry can provide that, it will allow Jordan Murphy to go ham on offense without needing to exert so much effort on defense.
Amir Coffey is the best recruit Minnesota has had since Rodney Williams, and he’s far more polished at this stage.
GopherNation: I’m not even trying to be different but I’m excited to watch McBrayer. That kid can defend and I really enjoy watching that. If he has worked out his shot a little bit and can make teams have to honor it, he may end up being the best player on our team.
What do you expect out of highly touted prospect Amir Coffey?
mowe0018: I still haven’t got a handle on what he’ll be expected to do with the construct of the offense. I know that he has always desired to be a “point forward” of sorts and since we only have one true point guard in Nate Mason, maybe Coach Pitino will indeed include him in some ball-handling responsibilities.
UStreet: Coffey is going to be really good. I expect that he’ll start from near Day 1 if not to open the season and hold that spot for the rest of his Gophers career. I hope that he’s willing to be selfish when necessary and assert himself on the game.
zipsofakron: The fact that he’s starting from day one should speak to his talent level. Blue chip programs bring in freshmen who can jump into the starting lineup all the time, but the Gophers aren’t at that level, so it’s exciting to have a guy like that. That said, I expect him to play at level worthy of starting. His flexibility to be a “point forward” type is really interesting, so the matchup problems will be enticing. He’s not starting for nothing and I have high expectations for the Hopkins product.
GopherNation: Honestly I don’t have super high expectations for him. I think he’s going to be very good, but I don’t see him being an immediate impact player. He’s a good, all-around player who will start because he deserves to. But I don’t think he’s going to be our best or even second-best player. With that said, I also think he’s that kind of nonchalant kind of kid who doesn’t look like much in practice or warmups but just has a knack and feel for the game that he impacts it in obvious and subtle ways.
So I straddled the fence on that one. I think he’s going to be good, but I don’t have expectations of All-Big Ten or even being one of our top two scorers.
Which player do your foresee as the most likely to take “a leap” this season?
mowe0018: Jordan Murphy would be the most logical answer to this question, considering that the rule of the thumb in college basketball is that the biggest leap is made between a player’s freshman and sophomore years. So I’ll go with the less heralded option and say Nate Mason. I think he combines the efficiency from three-point range of his freshman year with the volume of shooting he did his sophomore year into a more complete junior year. The thing that really jumps out to me is his free throw percentage going from 61% his freshman year to 80% his sophomore year. That’s an indication of better form and repetition and I think that will carry over to all spots on the floor this year.
UStreet: Dupree McBrayer. Before the suspension at the end of the year, McBrayer was beginning to play like a heralded recruit. In the offseason, he added muscle so should be able to physically hang with larger 2s and 3s in conference. McBrayer could easily fill the Austin Hollins role that has been critically missing from Pitino’s team the last two years.
zipsofakron: I’m also going with McBrayer. Something clicked with him prior to the season-ending suspension where he looked very capable and it’s a shame he had to sit out the final four games. He’s a New York kid, so you know he has the chops to play at a high level, and Pitino has lauded his offseason development, both physically and from a skills standpoint. He can score and he can dish, and seems like the best best to do a lot more with additional playing time.
GopherNation: I mentioned McBrayer above and how if his shot is improved I think he could become our best player. He will take the biggest leap. But if I hijack the question and ask/answer who I think will be the biggest surprise...that is going to be Eric Curry. That kid is going to make an impact and will quickly be the first big man off the bench.