The facts are these...
- The Gopher’s starting center is officially suspended.
- The Gopher basketball program still has 15 games remaining, including Saturday’s home tilt against Indiana.
There are a lot of questions facing this team on the floor. For a team that began the season with such high expectations, there have been some depth issues and lack of consistency. But now the starting lineup is down one player and more questions arise.
We will find out soon enough, but my guess would be that you’ll see Bakary Konate starting at center and quickly come out as the Gophers move to playing small. Jordan Murphy moves to the 5, Davonte Fitzgerald, Michael Hurt or even Amir Coffey moves to the 4 and the backcourt adjusts slightly.
The other possibility is just having Hurt start right away, and there may be some merit to this option. Hurt starts at the 4, Murphy at the 5 to start. Hurt probably comes out earlier than anyone else with Konate getting minutes at the 5.
What happens after that will depend a lot on how well Konate is playing.
Who picks up the minutes?
Everybody. There are 26 minutes to be distributed and it will be all the names previously mentioned. Hurt and Fitzgerald stand to get the biggest bump and I would expect to see them on the floor at least 6-7 more minutes per game. That eats up approximately half of the minutes. Konate and Harris will be next in line for a minutes bump, but for obviously different reasons. Konate will be needed when we need a big in the middle but I bet you’ll see him only on the floor for an additional 4 min per game on top of his 9 he is currently getting (on average). And Harris will get residual extra minutes as backcourt players get bumped up a position, I’d expect he’ll get 2 or 3 more minutes. Isaiah Washington is already getting 19 minutes per game and he’ll probably get a couple more, perhaps more time of him and Mason in the backcourt together.
The rest? Expect the rest of the starting lineup to pick up a little bit of the slack both in terms of minutes and especially production.
Who picks up the stats?
Well this really comes down to who picks up the 10 points and 8 rebounds? Forget about the blocks, we haven’t seen those kind of block stats in years and we won’t again this year. Personally I believe that this is the chance for Fitzgerald to make more of an impact. Before his injury over a year ago he was reportedly rather productive and was going to be a contributor last season.
If you see his production jump to around 4 more points and 4 more rebounds per game. That leaves 6 points and 4 boards to come from everyone else. Fitzgerald adding 4 and 4 may not seem like much, but it would actually be pretty significant. The rest can be absorbed by Hurt, Konate and the rest of the squad.
What about the defense?
Minnesota’s defense went from 163rd in defensive efficiency 2 years ago to 22nd last year. And it was largely because of a dangerous shot-blocker in the paint. That is gone and won’t be replaced.
This is where the backcourt needs to step up in a dramatic way. Getting to shooters AND limiting penetration because they don’t have the same thing protecting the rim that they are used to. I don’t think there is an answer for this and if the Gophers swoon, this is going to be the reason why.
Offensively I think they can absorb and even replace the lost production, but they will begin giving up more points. And that is going to be what may lead to more losses.
Gopher basketball will persist and at least 15 games remain, the final question is...
Will this team make the NCAA Tournament?
It will be tough. Let’s say the magic number is 21 wins before the Big Ten Tournament. And with that, you’ll probably need to win an opening round game. Can they go 8-7 to close out the regular season? That Nebraska loss, sure looms large at this point.
There are a number of teams in the Big Ten who are struggling with injuries and overall the conference is down. Two games against a depleted Northwestern squad and Saturday’s home game against Indiana might NEED to be wins. Home games against Nebraska and Iowa also have got to be wins. That’s 5. Remember the Big Ten isn’t as strong as it has been in recent year.
I’ll assume losses to Purdue and Michigan State but you only play them three times. After that the middle of the Big Ten is a mixed bag of teams that all have their issues as well, the problem is all of the remaining games are away from home.
Now you need to now need to go 3-4 in 6 road games and a neutral site game. (Penn St, Maryland, Ohio State (n), Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan). That seems like a daunting task.
But this is still a talented team with Jordan Murphy, Nate Mason, Amir Coffey and the rest. That trio is pretty dang talented and there’s no reason we cannot still be competitive.
Ed Note: This post was intentionally direct and straight to the questions. It is not intended to discuss anything about the details surrounding the Reggie Lynch’s suspension.