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Minnesota Basketball: Looking Ahead to the 2018-19 Season

With the train wreck of 2017-18 behind us, will next year be a bounce back season?

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 Gopher basketball season was one that began with such high expectations. It turned out to be a disaster. So we quickly turn our attention away from the season that mercifully ended at the hands of Rutgers (really?...sigh), we quickly turn our attention toward next year.

I’ll begin the look ahead with a peak at the roster and some good news.

Roster Will Be Deeper

There is a lot of good news heading into next season and this may be the best news of all. We essentially lose one guy from the last half of the season who was a regular contributor. Nate Mason is that guy and he will be sorely missed. But the other two seniors, really shouldn’t have been logging significant minutes on a competitive Big Ten team. In their place come three freshmen, all of whom should offer valuable minutes on the floor.

Along with the 3 incoming freshmen you will get Eric Curry back from a season-long injury and Matz Stockman who sat out the year due to transfer rules. Now we will finally see a roster that has more depth than we have been accustom to seeing over the last few years. Are all of these guys going to be 30 minute contributors who are giving “starter-quality” minutes? No. But in 2018-19 your 7th and 8th guys off the bench are going to give you higher quality minutes than the guys who are moving on. Stockman isn’t going to confuse anybody with Reggie Lynch out there, but he is going to give you more on both ends of the floor than Bakary Konate.

Again, this may be the biggest thing to look forward to in the coming season. Assuming health, this team will have more depth to withstand injuries and foul issues.

The Incoming Recruits

Richard Pitino signed one of the best Gopher recruiting classes in recent memory when he inked Daniel Oturu, Jarvis Omersa and Gabe Kalscheur. All three are local and most importantly are all top 200 in the 2018 class and should provide valuable minutes next winter.

We have previously taken a dive into their individual talents and what they will bring to the team next year. Here I’ll give my best guess at what their contributions will be as true freshmen.

  • Oturu - likely to start at center and if the start goes to Curry, he’ll be one of the first guys off the bench in the frontcourt. He’ll be a shot-blocking and rebounding stud who will grow into a post-scorer.
  • Omersa - off the bench and probably playing behind Amir Coffey. He’s explosive and athletic, may need time to develop some, but he’ll play next year. Also may play power forward at times.
  • Kalscheur - Going to be a lethal shooter who will also be an athletic defender at the 2. This position is going to be a little crowded with Jamir Harris and Dupree McBrayer, but he too will play off the bench, giving much needed depth and some scoring punch.

And...expect one more to be signed to this class. With one scholarship remaining the Gopher staff can still add another body to the mix. Best guess is that this last scholarship will be used on someone can contribute immediately. Most likely a grad transfer and hopefully a point guard.

I’m tempering my expectations for this incoming class, they won’t be guys who carry this team in year one. But I do believe they’ll contribute with a possibility of sharing some of the major burden.

The Staff

The roster should be deeper, a fresh pool of talent is coming in but this staff is going to have a lot to prove and it is going to have to start being sustained success. The reasons for this year’s debacle are well-documented. Eric Curry’s injury was a major blow. Reggie Lynch’s suspension compounded the depth issues, particularly on the inside. Coffey’s injury and McBrayer never really being full-strength were equally contributing factors to a disastrous season. But much of the lack of depth falls back on poor recruiting in back-to-back classes (2014 & 2015).

The 2015-16 season was one of the worst in memory. That was followed up by a great season last year, that had many believing this season was one where we could compete for a Big Ten title. Even Coach Pitino was of this mindset.

“It took years to build a Big Ten contender and we felt we had one.”

Yes, we had the talent in the starting five to do so. But it all came unraveled when injuries piled up. There does exist a debate as to how much of this is falls on the responsibility of the head coach and how much of this was just unfortunate circumstances. There’s a little bit of both and that’s sounds like a great post for another day. But there is no doubt that more seasons like this are going to lead to a coaching change. This next year is one where the Gophers need to perform better and see that result in more wins. And it is my opinion that this staff really needs to show us back-to-back solid seasons.

But it starts with 2018-19. Look for this staff to figure out a way to replace the scoring of Nate Mason and the defensive presence of Reggie Lynch, or find alternative ways to be successful on both ends.

The Lineup

It’s been said a few times, but I firmly believe this lineup will be deeper next year. Here’s my best guess at a starting lineup and the rotation.

PG - Isaiah Washington - Currently there isn’t another point guard on the roster but I think that if you were still watching at the end of the year that Washington is starting to get what it takes to play point guard in the Big Ten. He is lightning quick and is learning how to run an offense. He struggled this year and I had pretty low expectations of him heading into the season, but I think he has a strong sophomore season.

  • Bench - Unknown - I firmly believe that a grad-transfer point will be brought in. Jamir Harris may see a bit of time here if necessary, but look for a new name to fill this role next year.

SG - Dupree McBrayer - he was a shell of himself this past season and Pitino said that he basically didn’t practice for the last 2 months. When healthy, he’ll bounce back. I expect that the senior will start.

  • Bench - Jamir Harris - Much like Washington, I think he takes big steps as a sophomore. The kid has very quick feet, is a great shooter and learning to play at this level. Year two will be big for him.

SF - Amir Coffey - and he’ll be our best player. Just stay healthy, young man.

  • Bench - Jarvis Omersa - Might see the fewest minutes of the three freshmen, but also may have the highest ceiling. He’ll be exciting to watch.

PF - Jordan Murphy - I know I said that Coffey will be our best player, that is true. But Murphy was in the All-American conversation into mid-January. He’s a cornerstone to next year’s success.

  • Bench - Eric Curry - It may be a slow start to the year but Curry is a Big Ten starting caliber big man. He’ll play some PF and he’ll play a lot of center. It is possible that he starts at center, but I think this is more likely.

C - Daniel Oturu - True freshman but here’s what he brings to the table that is going to be invaluable. He blocks shots and rebounds. He’s not going to be the physical presence that Lynch was, but he is going to be someone who can alter shots and round while his offensive game develops. He’ll play a lot.

  • Bench - Marz Stockman - Of the 10 names listed, he’ll likely be the 10th as Curry plays more minutes as backup center. But Stockman will get some time and I suspect he’ll be solid. The frontcourt is going to be pretty deep.
  • Bench - Gabe Kalscheur - I know we are getting pretty far down the list here, but Kalscheur is going to play next year. If he shows more interest in playing defense than recent freshmen guards, he may play a lot more than anticipated.
  • Bench - Michael Hurt - Also, will play. Hurt is now seasoned, he is more confident in looking for his shot and in the right matchups, he can be valuable on the floor. I’ll be more comfortable with him on the floor as a junior, but he is not starting caliber.

This rotation will tighten up, but there is a lot more depth on this team and if Pitino has to go deeper into his bench, he can get away with it. A nice mix of experience and talented youth. Coffey and Murphy are the guys you’ll rely upon but there are guys who can also carry the scoring load on given nights.

Wildly Early Prediction

This team is one that makes the NCAA Tournament. Not as an exciting seed, but they’ll make it after doing OK in what is likely to be another mediocre Big Ten. If everything goes just right...getting improvements from Harris/Washington while getting great freshman performances from a couple of the incoming freshmen and possibly getting a grad transfer who makes an impact...then maybe you have a team who can compete near the top of the Big Ten. But that’s a best-case-scenario. Realistically this team is above the Big Ten average and makes the NCAA Tournament.