This whole worldwide pandemic has thrown a massive wrench into all things sports. The basketball season was abruptly shut down days before Selection Sunday and everything was thrown into limbo. The effect of schools closing, travel restrictions and changes to NCAA recruiting periods has altered the offseasons for everyone.
The Gophers entered the offseason with a number of questions, some have been answered and others remain. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been answered and the big ones yet to be answered.
1 - Will Richard Pitino return?
Yes, he will.
One theory is that this pandemic may have given Pitino one more year. The financial uncertainty facing the University as well as what would likely be a weaker market for recruiting a new coach very well may have factored into Mark Coyle’s decision to retain Pitino. It was also rumored that Coyle was leaning towards keeping Pitino and allowing the promise of the 2020-21 season play out.
Either way, he’s back and there is a promising roster heading into next season.
2 - Will Daniel Oturu return?
No he won’t.
Oturu has entered the NBA Draft and the Gopher All-American will need to be replaced. This is a big blow to the team, which could have been very good next season with Oturu. But it is 100% the right move for Oturu. He improved his game dramatically and earned the right to be drafted, good for him and best of luck.
3 - Who will replace Oturu?
Welcome Liam Robbins, a 7 foot transfer from Drake, who happens to be Ed Conroy’s nephew. His addition still has a question, but it is yet to be answered so you’ll see that below.
But Robbins is a shot-blocking force who has rapidly been improving after not being offered a scholarship out of high school.
1 - Can they land Kerwin Walton?
With Payton Willis transferring, the Gophers still have an available scholarship and most importantly they have an open spot on the wing for someone to come in and play valuable minutes. Walton is a 4-star shooting guard who played last season at Hopkins. He is a very good shooter, he reportedly has a tremendous work ethic and plays good defense. He would be a fantastic addition to the program for this coming season and the subsequent ones.
Can they land the Hopkins senior? By most accounts it is down to Arizona or Minnesota with North Carolina able to swoop in if they have a scholarship open up.
He would be a perfect fit for this team. This season and subsequent ones.
2 - Will Liam Robbins be eligible?
The replacement for Daniel Oturu isn’t much of a replacement if he is ineligible next season due to the traditional NCAA transfer rules. Many believe that the NCAA will grant a blanket waiver to tall transfers this year, but this is no guarantee.
The Gophers need a solid center who can get them double-digit points and be a presence defensively in the paint. If Robbins isn’t eligible, then we have some major concerns at center. His addition, along with Brandon Johnson gives this team some frontcourt depth, but if he can’t play then we have some problems.
3 - Who replaces Rob Jeter on the coaching staff?
I am a firm believer that successful programs have a great coaching staff and often highly successful coaches are really propped up by elite assistants. Rob Jeter brought a ton of experience and was good at developing the Gopher backcourt. His loss isn’t going to cripple the program, but this is an opportunity to bring in someone who can help. Particularly if someone is highly qualified AND can bridge the recruiting gap locally. Who Pitino hires is important here.
4 - Will Marcus Carr stay in the NBA Draft?
Carr announced that he’s entering the draft but not hiring an agent. He says this is an opportunity to participate in the process and get himself in front of the league’s talent evaluators. This is a great decision on his part and it should give him exposure. But I fully expect he’ll be our starting point guard when basketball returns.
5 - Which sophomores will improve to become contributors?
The last quarter of the season saw Isaiah Ihnen begin to emerge as a contributor, especially on offense. I personally believe that Tre Williams will improve with the confidence of being a sophomore. Sam Freeman was very raw as a true freshman but has the body & physicality to be a Big Ten caliber big man once he starts to figure things out.
If one or more of these guys begins to emerge, this team starts to become very dangerous. Ihnen and Williams averaged around 3 points per game this past season. If either begins to average 8-10, that is going to be a really nice boost to the roster. Personally, I think both are going to show improvement to become contributors.
Then I’m looking at Brian Greenlee and Freeman to improve to become reliable backups.
Overall this roster is shaping up very nicely for next year. If the answers to questions 1 and 2 come back in our favor, then I am very excited about next year’s team. Here’s my anticipated lineup for next season.
PG - Carr
SG - Gabe Kalscheur
SF - Walton (Williams or Ihnen here if Walton doesn’t commit)
PF - Johnson
C - Robbins
B - Mashburn Jr - comes in at point and can play alongside Carr, he plays a lot of minutes
B - Ihnen - PF and SF
B - Williams - SG for Gabe
B - Omersa - C
B - Curry - in the middle but he won’t play a ton of minutes
B - Greenlee/Freeman - both play about 2-4 minutes per game
B - Mitchell - I really have no idea what to expect from the incoming freshman big man
Should be a fun year and it’ll be interesting to see how a couple of these questions get answered in the coming weeks.