We now have all of the eligibility questions answered for Gopher basketball as we head into next season. Which now allows us to speculate about the upcoming season.
We now know the fate of Liam Robbins’ eligibility and are very hopeful that the Gopher basketball program gets similarly positive news on Both Gach. For today we are going to assume Gach also is granted a waiver and we can speculate about the upcoming season.
In late August, Zips published a nice post on what would be the ideal Gopher lineup. And don’t forget UStreet’s hard-hitting piece on getting himself a fancy quarter-zip. But I have this lingering feeling about the upcoming Gopher basketball season. A feeling that this roster is solid. Pretty good and is likely going to finish right around .500 in the Big Ten and get into the NCAA Tournament. A very high floor, if you will.
BUT this is the type of team where if just a couple things go right, team could end up being very good. A very high ceiling, to continue that cliche.
First, we look at the floor for this year’s team.
PG - Marcus Carr - All-Big Ten caliber and the team’s leader. We know what we’re getting from Carr.
SG - Gabe Kalscheur - Elite defender, a good shooter and once again, we know we are getting here.
SF - Both Gach - Started 25 games and was 2nd leading scorer for a P5 team. What are we going to get? Not sure, but he is a starting caliber forward.
PF - Brandon Johnson - Three year starter at a MAC school and should be a significant upgrade at PF for the Gopher roster.
C - Liam Robbins - A seven-foot center who blocks shots, rebounds and it capable of being a double-digit scorer.
The starting lineup looks to be one that is full of experienced and talented starters. I can think of many previous Gopher lineups where there were 1 or 2 guys who really were not starting caliber Big Ten players. This is not one of those lineups, these guys are starting caliber players at this level and would be starting on most other P5 rosters.
When you then add in guys off the bench who are truly reliable and capable of adding value, this team’s baseline expectations should be a solid Big Ten team. There is easily enough talent on the roster that this team should not be in the bottom 5 of the conference, and unless something changes they are not a top 4 team.
The floor, is a solid Big Ten team that is likely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. I find it hard to find see a scenario where this team is “bad.” Injuries and suspensions are possible, but But how good can this team be?
There is some room for optimism that the ceiling of this team is fairly high. The basic “floor” premise is founded on the idea that we have a pretty good idea what to expect from the majority of the roster, and the most likely scenario is that they’ll be a good (likely not great) team.
But what if a couple things go right? A year ago I would not have expected that Daniel Oturu would have turned himself into a possible All-American and a 1st round NBA draft pick. On the flip side, I’m not sure many people expected Kalscheur to drop his three-point shooting percentage from 41% down to 34%. So this can go both ways.
There are really a few scenarios where this team really could go from a good team to a very good team. Lets consider a few.
- Impact Freshman - It has been a while since the Gophers have had a freshman who truly had a significant impact in his first season. Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Oturu and Kalscheur all had nice freshmen seasons, all scoring double-digits per game. But what if a guy like Jamal Mashburn Jr came in and was a player that was immediately an impact player? What if he forced Pitino’s hand and was a guy who had to be in the starting lineup and ended up being the team’s 2nd leading scorer, capable of a 24 night? Getting significant production out of someone you weren’t expecting, getting a dynamic player when you weren’t counting on it...that’s how you take a big step forward with your season.
- Better Shooting - It has been a few years since the Gophers were a good shooting team from outside. But what if Kalscheur returns to nearly 40% from behind the arc while Carr, Tre Williams and Isaiah Ihnen all improve slightly. This team, making threes, would be dangerous. It would lead to more wins, for sure.
- Improved Rebounding - Outside of Oturu, last year’s team wasn’t a very good rebounding team. I expect to get much better rebounding from Johnson and Gach at their respective positions while Robbins brings in fewer than the 11 per game Oturu grabbed. But overall if this team can be a better rebounding team (especially on the defensive end), it will help their defense significantly.
- Sophomore Improvements - Heading into last year I really liked Williams and Ihnen. Having the opportunity to watch them both in practice a couple times, I had high hopes for them. Imagine if both of those guys took significant steps forward, you saw flashes of it from Ihnen down the stretch last season. I’m not asking for either of them to become All-Big Ten caliber players in 2020-21, but if they both (or either one) come back and add 2 more field goals per game, upping their shooting percentages, that makes the entire team/bench that much stronger. If Williams becomes a more reliable shooter and Ihnen becomes a better all-around (confident) player, they are both going to move into the significant contributor category.
So far am I asking for anything crazy? I don’t think so. And I’m not even asking for much from the three transfers. I’m expecting a base level of production from those three, with Gach having the ability to have a big night once in a while.
Put it all together and one can see a path toward increasing the team’s overall scoring margin, even with losing Oturu.
What does that ceiling translate to? Well that is a team that can finish in the top 4 or 5 of the Big Ten, earning a solid NCAA seed and making it to the second weekend of the Tournament.
Is that realistic? Yes. A number of things would have to go right, but you can see that it would just take a few things. Honestly, better shooting from Kalscheur, Williams/Ihnen taking steps forward, some better team rebounding and fingers crossed that Mashburn is a stud.
The most realistic scenario is that this team is around the middle of the Big Ten, a Tourney team that will have to fight to get to the second weekend. But the path to being a really good team is there.
A season with a high floor and high ceiling is what we are heading towards.