Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the 2017-18 Minnesota Men’s Basketball season, which could be summed up as the tale of two Rutgers games. From the No. 12-ranked Gophers’ win over the Scarlet Knights in early December to the unranked Gophers’ double-digit loss to bottom-seeded Rutgers in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament this has been a roller coaster of a season. Ultimately though this season is the story of a team in free fall since the suspension (and eventual expulsion) of Reggie Lynch and injuries to Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer.
As we close the book on a once promising season that I think we’d all now like to forget, The Daily Gopher staff is here to offer their parting thoughts.
What is your Tweet-length (now 280 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ season?
GopherNation: Incredibly disappointing season that has so much promise. Prior year’s success does not guarantee future success.
GoAUpher: Haiku time (in proper 5-7-5, I promise)
Our Sweet Sixteen dreams
Have turned to bitter nightmares
I will miss Mason
gopherguy05: 280 characters of fart noise.
zipsofakron: I had legitimate Elite Eight and Big Ten title hopes for this team as late as January 3. It’s amazing to watch a season collapse so swiftly and completely in just a matter of days. Never seen anything like it.
Are you chalking this season up to a wash or are there warranted criticisms that Richard Pitino needs to address moving forward?
GopherNation: I put a lot of criticism on Pitino, not because of the injuries or suspension of Reggie Lynch, but he has been here long enough to have recruited enough depth to give this team a chance to withstand the loss of players. Recruiting is vital. Missing on a recruit or two happens, but the 2014 and 2015 classes had 10 scholarships handed out and three of them became valuable contributors. When you miss on that many, you are going to have serious depth issues down the road. I feel good about this past 2017 class; he needs to follow it up with another good class in 2018.
GoAUpher: I think that he’s getting a lot of flack that ignores the realities of the situation, but I agree with GN that there are some very reasonable criticisms that can be leveled despite the impact of injuries he couldn’t control (the lack of depth and a return to missing defensive fundamentals are the two that stand out to me). The latter issues with defense clearly go beyond being forced to play spot bench players for extended minutes and they make me wonder if we’d have lamented the outcome of this season anyway (as a disappointment, not a disaster). I’m extremely interested to see if he can get next year’s team playing better defense overall.
gopherguy05: I think there are things that could have been done better, but he got screwed in a lot of ways that on the surface look like there was nothing he could do about. But he definitely will be under the gun to get this team back to respectability next year.
zipsofakron: I disagree almost completely with GN. It wasn’t lack of depth that killed this team. When you’re talking about a roster of 8-10 players who will see extended minutes, there aren’t many teams not named Duke or Villanova who can withstand the loss of FOUR players. You could certainly argue that this team was thin beyond the starting five plus Curry, but I’m not holding anything against Pitino because he couldn’t make lemonade out of four popsicle sticks and some Scotch tape. I think the depth argument holds up better if it came down to a couple guys going down. Not 2/3 of your best players.
Ustreet: I do not think there’s a single team in America who could lose four of its top six players for extended periods of time and be successful. That said there are multiple reasonable criticisms of Pitino. His defensive scheme is porous and seems designed to give up open threes at will. His offense frequently relies on isolation from the point guard without associated off ball movement. He missed on a lot of recruits for two seasons which limited depth this season.
Is it win or go home for Pitino next season? How confident are you that he’ll be the head coach beyond next season?
GopherNation: I think he absolutely needs to win next year and the following year, in my opinion. No more having one good year followed by a finish in the bottom third of the conference. He needs back-to-back good years to continue. The definition of “good year” is arbitrary and I don’t think you need to put any specific win totals, Big Ten finish, or even NCAA wins as the barometer. But he needs to be competitive and he needs to sustain it. I don’t think back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances is too much to ask, but I’m willing to see how things play out.
GoAUpher: I think he has to make the NCAA tournament, though I had some interesting conversations over the weekend that almost convinced me that an NIT berth and decent NIT performance would be enough to save his job. If he does well enough to save his job next fall, then I’m once again in agreement with GN that he needs to sustain that success for another season to get fully off the hot seat for a bit.
gopherguy05: I think we need to see marked success. To what level, only Mark Coyle knows.
zipsofakron: Universe aside, Pitino is in a position where he’s gotta win or people are going to get antsy again. I can’t blame them and would also like to see a season that moves in the right direction. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to put a lot of faith in true freshman and hope that guys like Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris and Michael Hurt start to mature. That’s a lot of uncertainty in a make or break year.
Ustreet: Yes, he will need to make the tournament next year or the team should move on. No, I’m not tremendously confident he will be able to do that, but I also wasn’t confident two years ago. Look what happened then.
Jordan Murphy was clearly the team’s MVP. Which non-Murphy player most impressed you this season?
GopherNation: Really nobody “impressed” me. Amir Coffey had his moments. Nate Mason was a stud, but he performed as well as I had expected. Both freshmen were disappointing. I am looking forward to next year, quite a bit, but I’m not sure anybody impressed me this year beyond Jordan Murphy.
GoAUpher: Nate Mason is the only real answer to this I think. I’m really going to miss watching Nate.
gopherguy05: Nate Mason. He got screwed in the Big Ten awards. Better stats than last year and goes from first team to honorable mention. Minnesota fans took him for granted a bit, but he will go down as a Top 15-20 all-time player in Gopher history.
zipsofakron: Nate Mason. Dude played at a 1st-Team All B1G level and got a lousy honorable mention. He’s so steady and fun to watch. This will be one of those seasons I’ll always think, “what if?”
Ustreet: GopherNation is being oddly harsh on Coffey. When healthy he was impressive.
Freshmen Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris and sophomore Michael Hurt were forced into action with a depleted roster. How much and in what way will those three need to contribute moving forward?
GopherNation: I believe that you will see significant steps taken for both of the freshmen. Washington struggled at times this year, particularly in the middle of the season, but he started to figure things out and I think he is going to be a vital member of the starting lineup next year. Harris is going to be a major contributor too. He has a number of tools that will make him a good player on both ends of the floor, after a season to adjust to the speed and physicality of the college game, he will be a good player. Hurt is a polarizing figure. I think he will never be more than a spot player off the bench who will be able to contribute against certain teams. He’ll have a role, but it won’t be significant.
GoAUpher: Both Harris and Washington will need to step up big next year, but I think the most pressure is on Jelly to own the point guard role (even if they manage to land a grad transfer for that spot). Hurt is who he is. I feel bad for the kid and hopefully the team’s depth moving forward allows him to play the type of role he’s suited for, rather than having to play extended minutes every night.
gopherguy05: Plenty, at least the guards. Hurt will need to still play some next year, but with the incoming freshmen, I’m guessing they can take some of his playing time. Washington as of now will be the starting point guard, so he really needs to continue to move forward, and Harris will need to show he can beat out Kalscheur for the first guard off the bench spot.
zipsofakron: I wasn’t as critical as most on Washington this year, and I think he’s closer to being an impact player than most people think. In fact, I think we saw growth in the final third of the season where he was forced into action. The Gophers will need Washington to be much steadier next year and will need Harris to take a leap forward if they want to compete. I don’t know what to think about Hurt. He’s a liability on defense and is hesitant to shoot.
Ustreet: Washington’s development will matter the most. Barring some major grad transfer he should be the starting point guard next year. Harris and Hurt are currently both depth players, and I do not expect that to change. They should give you between 8-12 minutes a game against the opposing teams reserves. I will say that I’m not looking forward to the inevitable comment sections saying that players should transfer to smaller schools.
How much impact will the incoming freshmen (Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa, and Gabe Kalscheur) and Louisville transfer Matz Stockman have next season?
GopherNation: I think you’ll see quite a bit of production out of the incoming freshmen. If Oturu isn’t starting at center, he will likely be the first frontcourt player off the bench. Omersa is a bit of a wildcard in that his raw athletic ability may need time to develop at this level, but he has the talent to contribute immediately. Kalscheur will have a few more guys ahead of him on the depth chart but it is entirely possible that his shooting and athleticism may demand playing time.
For Stockman? I wouldn’t expect much. He will be in the rotation for the frontcourt. But I don’t think you’ll see him being a major contributor or a guy who gets a lot of touches on the offensive end. He will have a similar role to that of Konate’s. He’ll be a guy off the bench whose minutes will increase when there are injuries or foul trouble. He’ll give you more than Konate, he’s a more skilled player. But he will play behind Oturu and Curry at the five.
GoAUpher: I have no idea what to expect from Stockman to be honest. So I’ll simply agree with GN again.
As for the freshman, the Gophers are going to need Oturu to step up if they expect to bounce back next year.
gopherguy05: I think you will see all four play a decent role. The playing time is there for someone who wants to step up and make an impact.
zipsofakron: GN said it all.
Ustreet: I would imagine that the freshmen will be given every opportunity to succeed immediately. Besides the reasons that GN mentioned they are all local and local kids get more opportunities to play.