Welcome to the first player preview for the upcoming 2017-2018 Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball season! Despite the Eric Curry injury putting a slight damper on the excitement leading up to this season, there is still so much to look forward to. With an experienced back court, exciting freshman players, and returning all five starters from a team that won 24 games last year, there are still a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic about the opening tip in just under a month’s time. Let’s kick off the player previews by examining a much maligned member of the roster: senior center Bakary Konate.
Konate, according to the roster on Gophersports.com comes into his senior season at 6’ 11” and weighing 235 pounds. His more slender frame had given hope to Gopher fans in the past that he could become an athletic, mobile big man in the mold of Gorgui Dieng but he has lacked the lateral quickness and basketball IQ to make any significant steps in his development. Konate, who has come off in his tenure at Minnesota as a very good interview, yields from the African nation of Mali.
REVIEW OF 2016-2017
Bakary played in all but one of the Gophers’ games last year, spelling Reggie Lynch off the bench for spurts when the inevitable foul trouble had seized Minnesota’s starting center. While many a fan identified him as some sort of liability, he actually performed well in his role by providing 10 minutes off the bench, playing solid defense, and rebounding the ball. This was mostly exemplified in the fact that Konate had the team’s second best defensive rating, trailing only the blocktastic Lynch.
Offensively, Konate was what we would term, “a liability.” Of the players on the roster who registered at least 25 games played, Bakary’s offensive rating was second-worst, only finishing ahead of freshman Michael Hurt. While shooting 47.5% from the field on an extremely small sample size, Konate was never much of a threat to score, even against second units. It didn’t appear that he had developed much of a post game when he received the ball down low. The center’s best game came against Florida State in the Gophers’ Big Ten-ACC Challenge game in Tallahassee as he tallied 14 minutes 7 points (1-1 from the field, 5-6 from the line), 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. Considering that Florida State was one of the tallest teams in the nation, it’s strange that Konate found success against the huge front line of the Seminoles.
One last final highlight to mention for BK was his performance during the first matchup with Wisconsin at the Barn. He logged 24 minutes, gathered 4 rebounds, went 2-2 from the free throw line, and played very respectable defense on “The Human Arm Hook” Ethan Happ for long stretches of play. While he garnered 2 fouls in the process, he kept the Gophers relevant in a game they would eventually drop in overtime.
OUTLOOK FOR 2017-2018
I’m actually very curious to see what Konate can provide in his final season of play as a Golden Gopher. We know that due to his style of play, Reggie Lynch will never fully be able to shake of foul trouble completely. And with the injury to Eric Curry, BK will not see a shortage of minutes. Curry played center at times in a pinch. Those minutes would presumably be headed Bakary’s way. The key to being an effective bench player will be to limit his grand propensity to foul at every turn. BK accumulated an astoundingly bad 9.2 fouls called per 40 minutes of play. For reference, Lynch, who had to spend the entire second portion of many a first half on the bench due to foul troubles, had a 5.9 FC/40 rate.
If BK can limit the cheap fouls he tends to accumulate and show any kind of semblance of a post game, he might be able to provide slightly above average bench minutes throughout the season. I think that people are shamelessly harsh on the big man because he never turned into Gorgui Dieng. While he’ll never reach that level of play, he has vastly improved his game since he walked on campus. He also has never been anything less than an exemplary representative of the University of Minnesota. While this doesn’t help him on the basketball court, teams need a steadying presence like BK to be successful.
Ultimately, Konate will be asked to provide a defensive presence while the second unit for Minnesota is out on the court. He may also see an influx of offensive opportunities due to the presence of Isaiah Washington on the roster. Washington may create more scoring opportunities for the Gophers who find themselves on the floor with him at the point. If BK can finish more efficiently at the rim and contribute on the offensive boards, he could turn himself into a useful bench piece.
As far as eighth man on your roster, you could do a lot worse than Bakary Konate. While he’ll never be mistaken offensively for Hakeem Olajuwon, BK has a surprisingly good defensive contribution to the team as exemplified by his per possession statistics. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he should be a net positive contributor for a team that has top-4 Big Ten standings finish aspirations. If Konate somehow makes an unexpected jump in skill, which I find highly unlikely but still must consider, that would make the Gopher bench much more dangerous even with the loss of Eric Curry. Such a jump would portend very good things for Minnesota’s season.