Welp, we’re back. Can you believe it? Do you even remember last season? Do you even WANT to remember last season? I’m not going to rehash the gory details, because that would be cruel (you can do that here, if you dare). But let’s just remember that the season effectively ended on January 3rd in a win over Illinois. From there the Gophers would lose Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey and more than half of Dupree McBrayer. That’s on top of already missing Eric Curry due to a torn ACL in the offseason. So, four of the team’s top six players. Gone. No one is going to win with that. And the Gophers only won two games after D-Day.
But, hey, it’s a new season! New, healthy players. New, lowered expectations. New, early sleeper predictions from the pundits. We’ve got it all, folks. What could go wrong?
They say guards win games in college basketball, but in the Big Ten, if you don’t have reliable frontcourt then you aren’t going places. Fortunately for the Gophers, they’ve got quite a bit going for them up front, including one of the best forwards in the nation. Pair that with some serious athletic freshman talent coming in the door and we’ve got the makings of a pretty fun set of guys who should be a challenge for opponents. Let’s take a look:
Jordan Murphy, PF
The season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already angry on behalf of Murphy for not getting enough preseason accolades, or enough postseason accolades last year, for that matter. Remember when Murphy was not named to the All-B1G first team last year? A guy who averaged a double-double, was sixth in the conference in scoring and led the B1G in rebounding by a full TWO REBOUNDS PER GAME wasn’t considered one of the best five players in the conference. Or how about how he wasn’t picked as first-team All-B1G this year either. Lolokay.
Here’s a guy who literally carried three defenders on his back at all times last year, only had Bakary Konate helping shoulder the load and still finished averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds per game, which was a full 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds more than the previous season. He launched himself in the college basketball stratosphere despite losing almost his entire supporting cast.
This year? He’s the man, man. He’s the backbone of the whole joint. If last year was any indication, Murphy is poised again to be a consistent, dominating presence up front, which gives the Gophers plenty to start building around. Even if he comes back to earth this season just a little bit, we’re looking at something like a 15 ppg and 10 rpg.
Eric Curry, PF/C
You might not remember it, because it was basically two years ago, but Curry was a very productive forward in his freshman season. He averaged 5.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg in his lone season so far, averaging 20 minutes a game. That’s a double-double for a full 40 minutes. And coming into last season he was supposed to be a key contributor behind Murphy and Lynch until a freak ACL injury ended his season before it began. But now he’s back and ready to go.
Curry is going to be listed at the 5-spot, but he’s a different player in that he can play away from the rim as a well. At 6-9/240 he’s big enough to bang down low, but he’s also comfortable stretching the court. Richard Pitino said Curry is primed for a big season, and it’s hard to disagree. And while the team’s success isn’t solely on Curry’s shoulders, him being productive will be crucial to their season-long success.
Daniel Oturu, C
Oturu is a 6-10 freshman who has the chance to contribute right away down low. While he underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery in April, he’s now fully cleared and participating fully with the team. He even scored 10 points in the recent secret scrimmage against Creighton.
With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Oturu will be asked to protect the rim right away, and could be an impact freshman sooner rather than later with a nose for defense.
Another thing about Oturu? He’s amped to be part of the program. He was a huge cheerleader in getting Jarvis Omersa and Gabe Kalscheur to commit here and has expressed excitement at helping the team turn a corner.
Jarvis Omersa, F
Speaking of freaks of nature, how about Omersa? This dude can jump out of the gym. It’s always hard to say how much impact a true freshman will have, but he’s already endeared himself to Pitino by being a “junkyard dog”, and his performance at the secret scrimmage was reportedly promising.
Michael Hurt, PF
Oh, Michael, Michael, Michael. What will we do with you? Hurt found himself playing huge minutes down the stretch last season, largely because there just wasn’t anyone left. He averaged 31 minutes per game in the final nine games but, frustratingly, didn’t do a whole lot with them, scoring more than seven points just once in that stretch and finishing the season with a disappointing 3.2 ppg.
Hurt had trouble finding minutes last year before the team disintegrated, and even shortly after that. He never found a groove from a shooting standpoint, and always looked a step slow for a shooter and an inch short for a PF position. Was it nerves? Maybe, but the truth is he’ll need to take a big step forward in his junior season if he wants to maintain a meaningful presence in the rotation.
Matz Stockman, C
Will we ever see Matz take the floor? Hard to say. The last time he played meaningful minutes was for Louisville on January 24th, 2017. He does exist, it just sounds like he’s not very energetic. Here’s what Pitino had to say:
[Matz] has some work to do in the strength and conditioning department. Both Brock and Matz weren’t with us for eight weeks this summer so this is to be expected. Matz has had some very good moments in practice. Has the size and skill. Needs to continue to push through fatigue.
I guess the jury is still out.