Now that Amir Coffey leaving the program to pursue his professional career is official, we should look at how this affects the Gophers heading into 2019-20.
Coffey was set to be the focal point of a Gopher squad that had would have had pretty high expectations. He would have been the unquestioned leader, played nearly 40 minutes and likely would have been the team’s leading scorer.
So now Richard Pitino and squad have to find a way to replace all of that.
Now without Coffey as a senior, this has team has become much younger. And the reality is that most of your regular contributors are going to be underclassmen or newcomers. Your seniors will be incoming graduate transfer Alihan Demir and forward Michael Hurt. Juniors are Peyton Willis, who practiced with the team last year and Eric Curry who will actually be entering his 4th season with the Gophers.
Among that crew there will be guys who contribute on the floor but none command the sort of on-court presence as Coffey. Off the court Curry and Hurt could very well be the unquestioned leaders on this team. This is really hard to quantify, but this team is losing a guy who was a leader on and off the floor.
This is easier to quantify and will clearly be done by committee. For the final months of the season, Coffey was playing very close to 40 minutes per game. Whomever replaces him in the starting lineup will not play a full 40, so who starts and who shares this minute load?
Step one is figuring out who starts. I think most assume that Marcus Carr starts at point and Gabe Kalsheur starts at the shooting guard. But who plays the wing opposite Kalscheur? In this offense it really does not have to be a traditional small forward. Someone with a little more height and wing span would help in terms of defending other Big ten forwards, but it not necessary. So who are the options?
SF - Michael Hurt
SF - Isaiah Ihnen
F - Jarvis Omersa
SG - Tre Williams
SG - Payton Willis
You tell me which one of these guys jumps out at you as the clear favorite to start, cause I really don’t know. Hurt and Ihnen are positional fits but one is a senior who really has not ever been much of a factor and the other is a European freshman whom we know very little about. Williams and Willis are lengthy shooting guards who could make it work but also unknowns. Omersa has the build of a PF, athletic enough to play SF but is he ready to start on the perimeter? He seems like the least likely option.
To be honest I really have no clue. One of those names will start in Coffey’s absence and the rest will get minutes there until Pitino settles on a rotation. If I had to guess, I would say that it will come down to whoever earns this between Ihnen and Williams. Very different type of players but the Gophers can go with a lengthy SG at that wing spot or an athletic forward. If neither shows throughout the summer/fall that they should be starting then it might even be Hurt to begin the year. At least you know what you can expect from him and maybe with some confidence he can add some shooting to the lineup.
Last option...there is still time to find a graduate transfer. Even this past week there have been guys announcing that they are entering the transfer portal. Now with a starting spot open on what promises to be a good team, maybe the Gophers land a late graduate transfer who can have an impact while still banking a scholarship for next year.
This is the really hard part. The Gophers really are replacing the production of Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey. So we are replacing 31 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists. Add in Dupree McBrayer and you have a situation where it’s going to be awfully difficult to replace the overall production from last year.
The primary candidates to begin replacing this production will have to come from two new faces to the court. Marcus Carr at point will certainly be relied upon here. Coffey often ran point last season, now we will have an actual PG and he should pick up a good chunk of the points and assists left in Coffey’s void.
Next the Gophers are going to need more from Daniel Oturu and Kalscheur. Those two really are going to have to learn to be primary options, rather than being productive playing off Murphy and Coffey. This will be an interesting development to watch.
Lastly, a couple young guys are going to have to surprise. Nobody expected Kalscheur to do what he did as a freshman, and we’ll need that again. Whomever is tabbed as the starter at Coffey’s spot is going to have be more than a warm body on the floor.
The contributions will vary from different players and we aren’t looking for a Coffey-clone, but significant contributions are going to be needed from a couple guys for next year’s Gopher squad.
Coffey was going to be the team’s unquestioned leader on the floor and the primary focus of Big Ten defenses. But things have changed and others will have to take advantage of this opportunity.