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Minnesota Basketball: A very strange offseason for Gopher hoops

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Unique roster turnover and staff changes make for a unique roster in 2020-21

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

For the second offseason in a row, Gopher basketball is facing significant turnover. The 2018-19 team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament saw 47% of the roster, including 3 starters, depart for various reasons. This significant turnover created quite a few questions heading into the 2019-20 season. That team was inconsistent throughout the season, occassionlly looking like an NCAA Tournament team but most certainly would have been ignored by the Selection Committee.

Now the 2020-21 roster is once again looking for 3 new starters and replacing 47% of the scholarship athletes.

As Gopher basketball fans we have seen a multitude of unique roster changes and turmoil over the years. This year (particularly when you stack it on top of last year) has been more interesting than usual and the amount of roster turnover was significantly more than we were planning on. One player left early for the NBA Draft, 2 graduated and 2 transferred. Replacing those 5 openings plus one available scholarship are 3 transfers, 2 traditional high school seniors and 1 international player.

Before we get into the impact on the upcoming season and what to expect, here is a brief timeline of the Gopher offseason.

Those are 12 roster debits and credits just from the end of the season. Unusual? Highly.

What does this mean for the upcoming season?

Well, a year ago we were talking about significant roster turnover and not knowing what to expect as we headed into the season. Questions heading into last season were fair. It isn’t easy to replace two of the best players seen over the last decade along with a 3-year starter. And while guys like Marcus Carr and Peyton Willis were technically returning, they hadn’t played a game in 2 years.

This year is sadly too similar. Oturu is going to be the first Gopher drafted in a very long time. Kris Humphries in 2004 was the last Gopher drafted!! Willis was a good starter who was perhaps the most consistently reliable player in the backcourt. Maybe our best shooter as well. Alihan Demir is vacating the power forward starting spot, though it could be argued this spot will not be terribly difficult to replace.

There are 2 massively huge questions that need to be answered before we can lay expectations for the 2020-21 season.

  1. Will Robbins and Gach be granted a transfer waiver and be allowed to play right away. Both are likely starters and the dropoff after these two is significant (moreso for Robbins). In both cases there is reason to believe that the NCAA will be kind to the Gophers. Robbins is the nephew of coach Tom Conroy so the “excuse” that he’s transferring for familial reasons exists and has worked for other programs. Gach is from Minnesota and transferring to be closer to his family is also a viable reason to have the waiver granted.
  2. Marcus Carr needs to decide if he is going to officially enter the NBA Draft. If Carr leaves, we are in significant trouble at the point guard spot. It is assumed that he is testing the waters, getting his name in front of key decision makers but will ultimately decide that he should return to college.

So we are faced with a couple VERY different scenarios for next season.

Scenario 1 - Carr returns and the Gophers get the transfer waivers (1 or both).

Scenario 2 - Carr goes to the NBA, neither transfer is granted a waiver.

Obviously come combination of the potential outcomes gives you a Scenario 3, but I’m going to stick with just these two for now.

Scenario 1 - Projected Starters / backups

  • PG - Carr / Jamal Mashburn Jr
  • SG - Gabe Kalscheur / Tre Williams
  • SF - Gach / Ihnen
  • PF - Johnson / Ihnen / Freeman
  • C - Robbins / Omersa / Curry

This roster is pretty good. I like that starting lineup and there is some scoring punch on the bench. This would possibly be the deepest team in Pitino’s tenure. While they would lack that premier player like Oturu, Murphy or Coffey; this team would be balanced with several guys who could average around 10-12 ppg. The potential of someone like Mashburn or Ihnen to breakout is there. I like this team to be better than last year and a solid NCAA Tournament team.

Scenario 2 - Projected Starters / backups

  • PG - Mashburn Jr / ??
  • SG - Gabe Kalscheur / Tre Williams
  • SF - Williams / Ihnen
  • PF - Johnson / Ihnen / Freeman
  • C - Omersa / Curry / Freeman

This team would struggle in the Big Ten, mightily. Who is your go-to scorer here? How badly would this team be killed in the paint against Big Ten competition? And how much are you relying on wildcards taking massive steps forward to be unexpected contributors right away.

Moving Forward

This cannot be the same regular occurrence that has been lately. The landscape of college basketball is different than it used to be. You don’t simply bring in the same number of high school recruits that you are losing to graduation. Transfers are so prevalent and it is just part of what to expect now.

But you cannot overturn half of your roster year after year and expect to be competitive. If you aren’t bringing in 5-star recruits who you know won’t be here for 4 years, then you need to develop deep and experienced rosters.

This might be my biggest complaint about Richard Pitino. His roster management has been such that every year seems to be a pretty significant overturn of scholarships. There is always a lack of depth and one or two positions are significant holes.

But this current team has some talent returning, we just need a couple answers on who will be playing.