The jury is still out with respect to exactly who will and won’t receive a transfer waiver to play for the Gophers in 2020-21 and who will even be on the team when the season starts (...if the season starts?).
Still, the bottom line is that Minnesota will look substantially different than last year with Daniel Oturu off to the NBA, Payton Willis transferring and Alihan Demir graduating. They technically have six newcomers and Eric Curry returning after a year and half away basically makes it seven. That’s a lot of turnover.
The Gophers received good news when Marcus Carr decided to return to the team, which gives them an all-conference point guard at a position that is extremely thin, and reinstates arguably the team’s best player.
So what does the lineup look like with all of this change? Let’s break it down a little. For the stake of this discussion, let’s assume that Liam Robbins and Both Gach are granted waivers to play immediately.
- Marcus Carr (PG)
- Gabe Kalscheur (SG)
- Tre’ Williams (SG)
- Isaiah Ihnen (F)
- Sam Freeman (PF)
- Jarvis Omersa (PF)
- Eric Curry (PF/C)
Here’s my quick take on the returners. Carr returns and is locked in as the floor general, while Kalscheur has now established himself as one of the better three-point shooters in the Big Ten and on-ball defenders. Those two are locks for the starting lineup. Williams made strides last year when the team needed his minutes, though he was inconsistent, but you can see the potential. Ihnen began finding his footing late in the season, flashing his three-point skills and finishing with three 9-point games in the final five games. Things certainly looked like they were starting to click, and his increased minutes reflected that.
On the block, it’s anyone’s guess. Freeman looks like a player whose ceiling is fairly limited while Omersa’s minutes evaporated in the final half of the season after he was given a fairly long leash to start the year. Is that experiment over? Curry has always had promise but injuries have gotten in the way. If he’s healed and not rusty he immediately becomes a serviceable big man down low who can give you 15 good minutes off the bench.
- Brandon Johnson (PF from Western Michigan)
- Jamal Mashburn Jr. (freshman PG)
- Martice Mitchell (freshman F)
- Both Gach (SF transfer from Utah)
- Liam Robbins (C transfer from Drake)
- David Mutaf (freshman SG/SF)
Here’s where it gets messy, because there is a ton of current and potential talent here. Johnson is locked in at the PF position for this team. Primarily because he’s just that good (15.4 ppg and 8.1 rpg last year) but also because the talent level at the position just isn’t there right now. Mashburn is hopefully a star in the making, and the combo guard will command minutes right away, but Mitchell will be an interesting case. It’s difficult to grab minutes as a true freshman, but he also has an opportunity as a 6-10 forward to be a difference maker at the PF position and spell Johnson.
Robbins, if cleared, is the clear starter at C and will likely be the difference between the Gophers being a tournament team or a toward the bottom of the conference. Gach likely slides in as the starter at SF given his experience at Utah, while Mutaf is a true wildcard. We’ve seen so many Euro players come over to the program in past years, but the translation to the college game is hard to predict. It sounds like the pedigree is there, but he’ll have his work cut out for him trying to steal minutes at the 2- and 3-spots.
So where does that leave us? Given what we know, I feel like this is best lineup the Gophers can field at this time, with proposed backups noted:
PG - Marcus Carr // Jamal Mashburn Jr.
SG - Gabe Kalscheur // Tre’ Williams
SF - Both Gach // Isaiah Ihnen
PF - Brandon Johnson // Martice Mitchell
C - Liam Robbins // Eric Curry
Obviously players like Ihnen, Mitchell and Curry can slot in at different positions, but this gives you an idea of who can play where. Mutaf, Omersa and Freeman look like odd men out right now.
What sticks out to me? The difference between a deep, dangerous Minnesota squad and one that might finish 12th in the conference hinges on Robbins and Gach receiving waivers to transfer immediately. Relying on the inconsistent NCAA transfer process is a terrible place to be and it’s unfortunately where the Gophers currently find themselves. If the pieces come together, though, it’s a very promising squad.
What do you think?