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Minnesota Basketball: Reactions & Expectations Roundtable

Time to look ahead to next season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Minnesota vs Middle Tennessee State James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

After an 8-23 season I was pining for something, ANYTHING, to make me care just a little about the 2016-17 season. Even an NIT bubble conversation would mean we had excitement enough to consider the season a low-level success after such a monstrosity. Instead, dropped in our laps was one of the most fun seasons in recent memory en route to a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, it didn’t end the way we wanted, but the Gophers vaulted from conference doormat to potential frontrunner in just two years. That’s amazing.

It wasn’t all sunshine and gummy bears this season, though, and there’s still a lot of work to do to compete at the top of the conference. To wrap up the season and take a look to next year we polled the staff on what they loved, what they’re nervous about and what they’re expecting next season.


What about this year gives you hope for next year?

Where do you even start? We’re losing only a single player from a team that rolled to 11 conference wins and the NCAA Tournament. The amount of talent we’re returning is incredible and, compared to the attrition other programs are feeling, we should have a running start to begin the season.

We got amazing performances across the board, with Nate Mason making the leap to conference stardom and Amir Coffey showing up on the scene. These guys will only get better. Ditto for Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy, both of whom found their stride late in the season. Reggie Lynch is automatic on the court when he’s not fouling and Eric Curry will make a huge leap from a very good freshman campaign.

But, more importantly, I’m hopeful for next year because this team already showed it can deal with adversity. They were road warriors, which is a very hard thing to be in college basketball, and separates the top tier from the middle tier. More importantly, they didn’t fold after a brutal five-game losing streak. Instead, they smacked it in the face with a follow-up eight game winnings streak. That type of turnaround shows this team’s character.

What still makes you nervous about next year?

Unless Lynch can show a clear evolution in his ability to not foul, the frontcourt depth is going to be a pain point again next season. Bakary Konate is serviceable at best, but the Gophers were overwhelmed when Lynch was on the bench. He’ll be the crux again, which is equal parts exciting and scary.

I’m also nervous about expectations. This team was nothing but trouble when they had a target on their back. They lost consecutive games after becoming ranked for the first time and then went out with a whimper after rolling into the tournament as a 5-seed. They’re already being touted as one of the best teams in the conference next year, but can they handle that pressure? I really don’t know.

What are your expectations for 2017-18?

This is a team that is returning a ton of talent and getting more in from recruiting. And they had enough ups and downs this year that I don’t think their record was a fluke. In other words, they passed the eye test and it wasn’t like they stumbled into success. I’m hesitant to say something like “anything less that top four in the B1G is a failure” because the standings are so circumstantial, but this is a team that absolutely should get out of the first round of the Tournament and even into the Sweet Sixteen next year. I expect them to be ranked all season.


What about this year gives you hope for next year?

This team has talent and the majority of that talent is returning. When you’re All-B1G 1st Team point guard, B1G DPoY center, All-Frosh Team standout, and underrated (by the voters) 3rd Team All-B1G forward are coming back, well, you’ve got to feel good.

Plus this team proved that it had the ability to overcome a bad stretch of play and in turn, play well for an extended period. They weren’t perfect (obviously) and I expect they make take some of the early season to adjust to the lack of Springs and the talent of the incoming class, but this is a team that will rightfully have some expectations on it in 2017-2018 (though my guess is they’ll skyrocket higher than they should).

What still makes you nervous about next year?

Guessing this one is a broken record after we all say it, but depth is my primary concern. Reggie Lynch will continue to have the ability to lift this team with his play but hurt it with his foul troubles. And without knowing how the incoming freshman can contribute, we’re still not super deep at guard either. If they don’t find someone to step up and replace Akeem Springs as the consistent three point threat the offense could have issues. Lastly I guess would be set offense. One thing this team still hasn’t excelled at is the ability to run set plays to settle down and get a bucket. I would love to see that improve.

What are your expectations for 2017-18?

Minimum expectation should be a non-bubble at large bid in the NCAA Tournament. I think there are still enough unknowns about this team (including what kind of conference schedule they’ll get stuck with now that things are so unbalanced year to year) to feel confident about predicting a Top 4/title competitor type season. That said, if this team is struggling to finish in the Top 12 of the conference table come March I think folks will be rightfully upset regardless of what the schedule looks like.

To be honest, I want to say my expectation is a Top 4 finish. I know a lot of folks will set that as their standard and I understand why. But I have trouble saying that until we at least get to see whether the Big Ten is going to screw us or help us with our 1 play and road games next year.

If Minnesota comes into the NCAA tournament as a higher seed (read 7 or better) I’m also going to expect 1 tourney win.


What about this year gives you hope for next year?

The Gophers made the NCAA Tournament and were two games away from the Big Ten outright with a team that returns every major piece sans Akeem Springs.

In the backcourt, Nate Mason established himself as an All Big-Ten player, Amir Coffey showed us why few of us expect he will play all four years before turning pro, and Dupree McBrayer got buckets. In the front court, Reggie Lynch Block Party and an unbroken Jordan Murphy were a strong post duo, and Eric Curry had a solid freshman campaign backing up the 4.

They recruited the best basketball player in New York to provide depth at point guard, and get another off season to gel together as a team.

What still makes you nervous about next year?

Frontcourt depth will remain an issue next year, especially if Reggie Lynch has not weaned himself off an addiction to dumb fouls. There is also concern as to who is going to become a consistent three point shooting threat. Arguably, the best three point shooter on the team will not arrive on campus until the fall.

What are your expectations for 2017-18?

Make the NCAA Tournament. At this juncture, a top 4 finish in the Big Ten is certainly possible, but the conference is so challenging that I do not consider that an expectation.


What about this year gives you hope for next year?

Obvious answer is obvious. The team won 24 games and finished 4th in the Big Ten. That alone would be a wonderful indicator of program success. However, the essential piece of information that directly impacts my hope for next year is the fact that the entire roster is returning, with the exception of Akeem Springs. Springs’ positive impact on this year cannot be overstated enough. He was essential in taking this team to the next level, making the team routinely capable of beating KenPom top-50 opponents.

While losing Springs hurts, the Gophers could still be better at the two guard positions next year than they were this year. Nate Mason’s continually increasing free throw percentage indicates an improving shooter, even though his 3-point percentage dropped. With Isaiah Washington joining the fray, Mason won’t likely be playing 34 minutes a game. This means fewer tired legs. Dupree McBrayer also returns at the shooting guard spot. McBrayer actually ended up being the best 3-point shooter on the team this past season, albeit on half the attempts of the likes of Mason and Springs.

To make sure I don’t get too wordy (too late, right?), just think of Amir Coffey making the “sophomore leap,” Lynch avoiding stupid fouls, and Devonte Fitzgerald possibly contributing off of and lengthening the bench and the bench. Those things give me much hope.

What still makes you nervous about next year?

Any kind of long-term injury. The team isn’t deep enough to absorb a lengthy injury and still compete at a high level.

Also, general offensive stagnation due to a lack of shooters and offensive game plan.

What are your expectations for 2017-18?

With essentially the entire roster returning and Coach Pitino going into his fifth year as leader of the basketball program, I think it’s entirely fair to have very high expectations. My TDG counterparts will probably disagree but improving in all important metrics would be my expectation. In his fifth year at South Carolina, Frank Martin has them in their first ever Final Four. Now, I’m not expecting a Final Four but year five of a coaching regime should reflect progress and I would define progress as follows:

Specifically, I expect a top four conference finish. The teams ahead of us are losing more than we are and we very well could have a more fortuitous conference schedule next year. I expect at least 11 conference wins and getting another double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

Furthermore, I expect at least one victory in the NCAA Tournament. They got their taste of the Big Dance this year. It was disappointing to see them play so poorly but I wasn’t too beat up about it. Next year will be different.

Lastly, I would expect to finish higher in KenPom then we did this year. Currently, we sit at 36th in overall rating (79th offense, 21st defense). An improvement in offensive efficiency with a defensive ranking around what we had this year should get us into the top 30 next year.


What about this year gives you hope for next year?

Seeing the development of several of the players. Nate Mason went from a decent guard to All-Big Ten. There is no reason he can’t build on that and take another step forward next year. Reggie Lynch was amazing on the defensive end when he didn’t foul. Amir Coffey showed the potential we all saw and has another off season to build into an even bigger threat. Jordan Murphy can hopefully put together a full season of what he did to finish the year. The Gophers have a great base of talent, and with another offseason playing together and gaining more chemistry, lots of good things could happen next season.

What still makes you nervous about next year?

The depth will be improved, but Minnesota is still vulnerable to another long term injury. You can say this for pretty much any team, but if one of the Gophers studs goes down, they will have a tough time replacing his production. The question still remains if Minnesota has that shooter on the roster who can fill the role Akeem Springs did this season. It is hopefull the freshman Harris might fill that role, but planning on relying on a freshman is always a gamble. If they don’t find that knock down threat from behind the arc, then they will need to get a lot more creative on offense.

They still don’t have a ton in the post after Lynch. Eric Curry will improve, but he was a defensive liability many times this season, and Kontate is servicible at best. If Lynch gets in foul trouble, Minnesota will struggle defending the post once again.

What are your expectations for 2017-18?

I expect another double bye in the BIg Ten Tournament—so a top 4 finish. Without knowing the full Big Ten schedule and seeing who we play twice and who we just play at home/on the road its tough to predict an exact finish, but this team should be able to be a Top 4 team again. Hopefully they can avoid key injuries as well, and the expectation should be that they win at least one NCAA Tournament game. If not, the grumbling from the fanbase will begin—not deserved of course but if there is one thing we know, Gopher fans have a very short memory.