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Previewing Minnesota’s Back Court

Nate Mason is gone but the group carries talent and promise

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Minnesota
Can Coffey rebound from an injury-riddled season to lead the Gophers’ front court?
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Zipsofakron gave an excellent summation of the front court here. While it is now slightly out-dated due to the poorly timed injury and surgery to Eric Curry’s troublesome left knee, the march to the beginning of the season is still in full force. Let us, if only for a moment, turn ourselves away from the self-loathing brought on by another negative turn in what should be a positive season to examine the Gopher back court for the 2018-2019 season.

The Other Guys

These guys will not see the court this season for a variety of reasons. I wanted to mention them though just to give rosterial context and because these young men deserve some amount of acknowledgement even if they won’t show up in the box score this season.

Payton Willis is an incoming transfer from Vanderbilt and will be eligible to play starting in 2019-2020. While Vanderbilt was atrocious during his tenure, he did garner a lot of experience and can hopefully provide depth next season at the point.

Brady Rudrud and Hunt Conroy are both walk-ons who will only see time if the Gophers are winning by 30 points at the end of the game. We thank them for their hard work and being bodies in practice.

The Status-is-Up-in-The-Air Guy

Marcus Carr, a transfer from Pittsburgh, is in all likelihood not going to be eligible to play this season. However, as of October 28th, the staff was still hopeful that the transfer period be waived due to the firing of Carr’s former coach Kevin Stallings. Carr would be a useful addition to the back court this season. While Pitt was terrible last year, Carr led the team in assists and having guards with some high-level Division I experience under their belt is never a bad thing. Until we hear from the NCAA though, we can’t say whether he will be contributing this season or not.

The Guy I Wish Could Play

Jarvis Johnson will enter his senior year at the University of Minnesota. He will not play due to a heart condition which has kept him on the sidelines for his entire collegiate career but I wanted to thank him for his contributions to the team and acknowledge the time he has given to the program when many folks would have just walked away. By all accounts, he has been an excellent influence on the team and continues to have a good attitude about the unfortunate had he was dealt.

The New-Comers, Young Guy and Old Guy

The young guy is local talent and incoming freshman Gabe Kalscheur. The old guy is graduate transfer by way of UW-Milwaukee Brock Stull.

Kalscheur figures to get plenty of playing time as a shooting guard due to his long range accuracy. The Gophers desperately some accurate outside shooting to take the attention of opposing defenses off of Jordan Murphy down low and Gabe has one of the purest strokes seen in Dinkytown in quite some time.

Meanwhile, Stull figures to be a steadying senior force for the entire roster (think Akeem Springs-esque) as well as a contributor from outside. He shot 37.9% from three last season, which would have placed him third on the team for the Gophers. With the likelihood of the Gophers playing rather small, it helps to have another guard who will aide in stretching the floor.

The Major Guys

The three returning Gopher front court players will very much dictate the amount of success that is had at the Barn this season. Dupree McBrayer returns for his final Gopher season as a senior, junior Amir Coffey looks to become an impact player again after losing much of his sophomore year to a shoulder injury, and sophomore Isaiah Washington seeks consistency and more playing time after a less-than-stellar freshman campaign.

McBrayer, who in his career at Minnesota has looked both spectacular and infuriating, was recently voted a team captain along with Jordan Murphy. Thanks to his length and decent instincts, he is capable of making on impact on the defensive side of the court when properly motivated. While McBrayer battled leg issues for a majority of last season, he was still able to stuff the stat sheet on occasion, hinting at his wide swath of abilities from the shooting guard position. While he is a capable ball handler, I think we can all agree that the less time McBrayer spends as the primary ball-handler, the better off Minnesota will be. If Dupree can find his stroke from his sophomore season from the outside (40.9% from three), it would be a boon to the Gophers’ offense, as I can’t continue to stress how important it will be for Minnesota to hit outside shots and relieve the pressure off of Murphy down low.

Amir Coffey, a local product with an immense amount of talent and an incredibly high basketball IQ, was mostly robbed of his sophomore season due to injury. With him apparently fully healthy to begin the season, in addition to getting some run at point guard, it looks as if Coach Pitino will look to utilize Coffey’s abilities as a play-maker more often than in the past. Amir can do it all: score on the drive, pass, score from the outside, rebound, and defend. With his length and athleticism, he can guard positions 1-4 in a pinch and often creates mismatches on the offensive end against smaller 2s and 3s. It was encouraging that he raised his 3-point percentage by 3.1% between his freshman and sophomore seasons, even despite the shoulder injury. If Coffey can emerge as an All-Big Ten type player, this team could be going places. The talent is there, its just a question of health and being given the proper opportunities to use his vast array of skills.

Isaiah Washington came onto campus last year among the most hype from a non-Minnesota recruit in quite some time. Hailing from Harlem, New York, and known for his “jelly-roll,” Washington’s first season in the Twin Cities fell short of expectations. He was careless with the ball, fell victim to constant bouts of chucking, and was a net negative on the defensive side of the floor (ranked last in offensive rating on the team). However, this isn’t to say that Isaiah can’t become an important player on this year’s team. He is projected to start at point guard after the departure of Nate Mason and figures to gather ample playing time throughout the year. If he can improve upon his atrocious field goal percentage (36.6%), harness his speed and play-making abilities, and transfer some of his natural quickness to defense, Jelly could be in for a “leap” season.

These three guys appear to be your starting back court. They are a talented bunch with ample experience. Depending on Carr’s availability, there could be quality depth with this group. Additionally, the length of Coffey and McBrayer give Pitino additionally flexibility with his guards and it will be interesting to see the different combinations he decides to play with depending on what game circumstances dictate. If the group as a whole can provide a more efficiency from three-point range, it will go a long way towards improving an offense that finished ranked 152nd in the country according to KemPom.