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Minnesota Basketball: What can we be excited about in 2018-19?

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Coach Pitino blogs about what we can expect in 2018-19

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Gopher baseball is hot right now and you all should be paying attention to them this weekend. But we aren’t totally forgetting about football and basketball around here. Fortunatley Richard Pitino gave us a blog entry last week that we can digest and let’s talk about some reasons to be very excited about basketball next season.

Following last week’s Gopher Road Trip stops, Richard Pitino gave us a summer blog update. Let’s break it down a little bit.

First of all, I really enjoy Pitino and how he doesn’t pull any punches when he blogs.

It’s very important for our fans to understand what happened last season. Let’s be clear, we didn’t have a bad season. Three years ago we had a bad season. I know that sounds weird because we won 15 games but last season was totally different. Things out of our control derailed what could have been a special season. Not excuses. Just the truth.

Even if this comes across as a little defensive, there is some real truth to what he’s saying. 2017-18 was a very different season than 2015-16. Injuries wiped this team out when Eric Curry was lost for the season, Amir Coffey out for much of the second half of the season and Dupree McBrayer was playing with 1 good leg all season. Forget the Reggie Lynch suspension, injuries destroyed depth and really limited this team.

Take any team in the country, remove 3 of their top 6 guys and while there are a handful of teams that would maintain some level of success, most would fall into obscurity. Like the Gophers did.

But he has some optimism, largely because of what these upperclassment went through three years ago.

Why am I so confident that this team can be special? Our locker room is full of winners. Dupree, Jordan, Amir, Eric, Michael, and Brady were all part of a terrific team. Let’s revisit the past for a second. Dupree and Jordan won eight games their freshman year. They didn’t have a brand new, shiny Athletes Village to go to everyday. They could have made excuses about the situation and transferred but they never did. Now let’s talk Amir, Michael, Brady and Eric. They decided to come here during a very tumultuous time. No need to revisit that too much but let’s just say it was gratifying to see them take a leap of faith, believe in me, and be rewarded. All six of these guys went on to win 24 games, win 11 league games and even win eight Big Ten games in a row.

He’s accurate in that the core guys for next season have endured a lot, they’ve experienced winning at a high level and they are completely capable of being leaders on a winning team this coming season.

Now...let us talk about some reasons to be very excited for next season.

Point Guard

Yes, the one position where we are thinnest is one position that we should be very excited about. Take a look at the following table for a minute.

Gopher Point Guards

Player Min FG% PPG APG TPG RPG
Player Min FG% PPG APG TPG RPG
Player A 26.1 40.9 9.8 2.8 1.1 2.8
Player B 21.1 39.3 8.7 1.8 2.1 2.1
Player C 27.4 44.4 14 3 1.7 2.6
Player D 22.6 32.7 4.3 3.5 1.8 2.6

Those are the freshman stats of four very good Gopher point guards in recent memory. Player C is Isaiah Washington over the last month of the season (9 games). Was he brutal at times earlier in the season? He was. Especially a 7-game stretch where he shot 21% from the field while playing 17 min per game. But the final 9 games, things clicked for Washington and he really started to play the part of being a Big Ten point guard who can lead a team by doing more than finger rolls (that went in 25% of the time). Pitino shares some enthusiasm for Washington as a sophomore.

As difficult as it was to have a potentially great season ruined, it provided an opportunity for Isaiah Washington to learn and grow on the court. Playing valuable minutes as a freshman in the Big Ten will pay huge dividends for him as a sophomore. He’s humble and hungry right now!

For reference Player A is Nate Mason, Player B is Andre Hollins and Player D is Al Nolen (a GN favorite).

Health

We have some incoming talent to be excited about (more on that in a moment), but we should really be excited about getting some of our core back and healthy. Eric Curry’s loss last September was a huge blow, he’ll be back at 100%. Amir Coffey was having a great start to his sophomore campaign. His shooting was up, his rebounding was up, his assists were up, his scoring was up...and then he essentially missed the entire Big Ten portion of the schedule. He may very well end up being our best player this coming season. And McBrayer was a warrior last year playing with one incredibly weak leg. He was never able to practice, but his minutes were needed desperately so he played through the pain. His numbers were down significantly from his breakout sophomore season. Having him healthy will help.

Influx of Talent

There are technically 5 new names who will be playing next year for the Gophers. Three incoming freshmen from one of the best recruiting classes we have seen in years is going to help a ton. Daniel Oturu is going to give length, depth and explosiveness in the paint. He will be lacking in strength but otherwise will hopefully defend the rim in a similar way to how Lynch was a force in the paint. Jarvis Omersa is also explosive and exciting, giving depth at either of the forward spots. And Gabe Kalscheur brings sneaky athleticism to go along with excellent shooting, he’ll be needed for guard depth.

Towards the end of the year my schedule allowed for me to go see some state tournament games locally. The first game I saw was Orono vs. DeLaSalle. I walked out of the gym that night with a huge smile on my face. Gabe Kalscheur put up 38 points and made some huge shots down the stretch. Jarvis Omersa showed his athleticism, versatility down low and on the perimeter.

But Brock Stull is going to be a huge addition as well. Depth has been a real issue for this team the last two seasons and Stull brings experience and scoring ability on the perimeter. According to Pitino he is a “Big Ten-ready guard now.” And Matz Stockman gives this team some added depth in the frontcourt after sitting out a transfer year.

5 new names added to the rotation, 3 healthy bodies and you had guys like Washington and Michael Hurt gaining valuable experience last season. Oh, and let’s not forget Jordan Murphy, who may be one of the best players in the Big Ten.

There is reason to be excited about 2018-19.