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Gopher Basketball Returner Roundup: Daniel Oturu

The promising big man looks to build on a highly successful freshman campaign

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Des Moines Practice Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Basics

Entering his sophomore season, center Daniel Oturu is a local product from Cretin-Durham Hall. Coming out of high school, the Woodbury native was a high-level four-star recruit and was 50th in the national in 247’s recruiting rankings for the 2018 class. Oturu measures in at 6’ 10” and 240 pounds and wears the #25.

What Happened Last Season?

Oturu started 31 of 35 games for the Golden Gophers at the center position as a freshman. Averaging 23.8 minutes a game, Daniel led all Big Ten freshman in rebounding (7.0), field goal percentage (55.1%), and blocks (1.3). He was eighth among freshman in the conference in scoring with 10.7 points per game.

In addition to being one of the best, if not THE best, freshman big man in the conference, Oturu was 5th in the whole conference in defensive rebounding rate at 23.3% and 12th in block percentage at 5.0%. These are promising stat lines for a freshman, especially considering the weight of expectations on him after being a highly sought after local recruit for a majority of his high school career. There were times where Daniel displayed high level athleticism and power down low. As with most freshman, foul trouble and uneven play were sometimes evident but he was an excellent complement to Jordan Murphy in the front court for a team that won an NCAA tournament game.

One promising aspect of his freshman year was that Oturu didn’t falter against higher level competition. For example, in the Gophers’ first game against Purdue in a hostile away environment in West Lafayette, the big man had 19 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block, and 0 turnovers on 60% shooting from the floor. Playing that well against a future Elite Eight team on the road bodes well for the Gopher center moving forward.

What Can We Expect This Season?

To complement the point made above, Oturu could be in for big things this season, especially if he has put in the work to make the fabled “sophomore leap.” With a full Big Ten season under his belt, the game should slow down considerably for Daniel. This means he can focus on more polished scoring, increased defensive intensity, and improving his avoidance of foul trouble. Additionally, it seems very likely with the departures of Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy, who combined for 22.5 field goal attempts per game, that Oturu’s usage rate will increase significantly on the offensive side of the ball, even when considering Pitino’s quoted preference towards focusing on shooting more threes during the preseason. Daniel had the third highest percent of possession, behind Murphy and Coffey, as a freshman with 23.1%. Expect that number to increase to the upper twenties.

It seems likely that the Gophers’ starting center will see an increase in minutes from 23.8 to around 30, especially if he can avoid foul trouble which will also contribute to an increase in field goal attempts. If he can complement his natural athleticism and size with an improved post game, as well as an slight uptick in free throw percentage from last year’s 61.5% conversion rate from the charity stripe, we could see a break out season for Oturu. In addition, Oturu began to show at the end of the season that he might be able to hit from 3 at least enough to force defenders away from the paint. If that turns into a real weapon as opposed to a mirage, Oturu will be nigh impossible to defend.

Honestly, I think he might be the most important player on the roster this season. He has the highest percentage of possessions used of any returning player on the team. If he does in fact make the “sophomore leap” this team becomes much more likely to make the NCAA Tournament. Because the roster lacks depth in the front court, his ability to avoid fouls and increase his usage while maintaining some level of efficiency could be a boon for the Minnesota offense. Furthermore, if an improvement in his interior presence and rotations on defense occurs, that would help upgrade the team’s opponent field goal percentage allowed (11th in the conference last season). I’m really curious and excited to see how Oturu’s sophomore season unfolds.