Our preseason coverage of the Minnesota Golden Gopher men’s basketball team continues by examining a player on the roster who might best be considered mercurial based on his player during his freshman year: sophomore forward Michael Hurt.
The baby-faced Hurt comes into his second season on campus measuring 6’ 7” and 200 pounds according to Gopher Sports. Primarily considered a wing player who can knock down the three-ball, Hurt’s spindly frame didn’t reveal much athleticism during his first go around on the Barn floor. However, there is still hope that the long-range shot that made the Minnesota native an attractive recruit could still contribute on the offensive end of the floor for the Gophers this season.
REVIEW OF 2016-2017
Hurt’s freshman year was, by most accounts, underwhelming. Coming out of John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota, Micahel finished runner-up Minnesota Mr. Basketball. The fact that Coach Richard Pitino had recruited the top two players in the state in Hurt and Minnesota Mr. Basketball winner Amir Coffey had Gopher fans exited about the local freshman duo. While Hurt was never at the same level recruiting-wise as Coffey, he was still considered a high-end 3-star talent.
While Coffey excelled from the get go in Dinkytown, Hurt’s adjustment to the speed and physicality of the Big Ten is still a work in progress. The forward only played 10.8% of available minutes and finished last in offensive and defensive rating for Gopher players who played in at least 20 games. His three-point shot appeared rushed at times as he converted on 2 of 14 (14.3%) attempts from downtown for the season. The speed of the game often overwhelmed Hurt on the defensive side of the ball and his inability to keep his man in front of him was clearly evident against higher levels of competition.
Michael’s best game of the season came against Northwestern where he contributed 7 minutes, 3 points (1-1 from the field, 1-1 from the line), and 1 rebound in a winning effort. The previous sentence just about sums up Hurt’s freshman season. One final note, the forward was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. While this is an infinitesimally small sample size, Gopher fans can cling to that hoping the shooting stroke from the outside turns around with more attempts and an off-season of adjusting to the speed of the game.
OUTLOOK FOR 2017-2018
While Eric Curry and Amir Coffey have both been heavily focused on during the off-season, Hurt has been a bit of an after-thought. While this is understandable considering his rough freshman year, Hurt has the ability and frame to be a valuable piece for the Gophers this season. With the departure of graduating senior guard Akeem Springs, Minnesota finds itself with an apparent shortage of shooters. If Michael has successfully utilized the past offseason to improve his foot speed and become a more reliable defender, his ability to stay on the court for longer periods of time without being a liability will help the team’s depth and his own development.
While the offensive numbers from last season are so sparse that nary an accurate conclusion can be drawn, Gopher fans have to hope that the “sophomore leap” is massive in size for Hurt. No one will ever mistake Hurt for a bruiser but if Pitino decides to deploy some smaller lineups from time to time, it may require Michael to play the four spot on the floor. This would seem to put Minnesota at a huge size disadvantage but there is the possibility that Coach may want to attempt to run-and-gun, having shooters at four out of the five positions on the floor. The more likely scenario sees Hurt accumulated a large majority of his minutes at the three-spot, spelling the likes of Coffey and Davonte Fitzgerald.
If Michael can improve up his defensive technique and shows that he’s gained some bulk during his first in-college off-season, while simultaneously rediscovering his outside touch, he could prove to be a valuable commodity during the 2017-2018 season. The depth of the team took a blow when Curry went down and if Hurt can show signs of improvement and become a cromulent Big Ten player, it would relieve the burden from some of the other players who will be logging heavy minutes such as Coffey and Jordan Murphy.
Because I am an eternal optimist, I’m going to predict a step forward for Michael Hurt this season. The likes of Nate Mason and Isaiah Washington distributing and the threat of Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch scoring down low are going to create a lot of space for Gopher players willing to let it fly from three-point range. I think with an off-season of work and more exposure to the high level of play in the Big Ten, Hurt will have attained a certain level of confidence that was missing in his game last year. I know that many thought after watching Michael on the court last year that he might quickly become a lost cause but he seems the type of player willing to work hard to improve his game. If small improvements in his defensive game and rebounding ability occur, he will be a serviceable piece for the bench and will allow Pitino to rest his starters more often than he did last year.