For all intents and purposes the Gopher basketball roster is 100% different than it was last year. A coaching change translated to a mass exodus to the transfer portal and Coach Ben Johnson had to rebuild his entire roster, nearly from scratch.
Technically Isaiah Ihnen is the lone returning player, but he is also injured for the season and we won’t see him on the floor. Also technically Payton Willis and Eric Curry have played significant minutes for the Gophers, but they were not on the roster last season.
So essentially, this roster is a complete turnover. CBJ worked the transfer portal to fill out his roster with guys who wanted to play at a higher level and a couple of guys who were originally from Minnesota and excited to come back to play for the Gophers.
But ultimately this means that we have no idea what to expect for the starting lineup and rotation. And since we really have no idea, it seems like a good exercise to blindly guess at who will start and who will play significant minutes.
Think of this as a “Get to Know’em” type of basketball preview.
You Won’t See Them
I’ll start with the guys who will not be playing this year.
F - Isaiah Ihnen - the athletic and lanky German is injured and out for the year. Bravo to Ihnen for being the one guy to stick around and play for CBJ, he very much could have benefited from a change. It is unfortunate that he will have to spend this year rehabbing.
F - Parker Fox - coming to the Gophers from Northern State but this DII standout is very excited to put on a maroon and gold jersey. He is also recovering from an injury and will not be playing this season.
G - Will Ramberg - played his high school ball up in Cook County and spent last year playing for McGill University. Ramberg is a walk-on and not expected to see much action.
G - Joey Kern - a D3 transfer from John’s Hopkins. Kern is a shooting guard who also will likely see very little playing time.
G - Jackson Purcell - a freshman walkon from Eastview. Do not expect to see Purcell playing this season during meaningful minutes.
Hey Welcome Back
These former Gophers have taken interesting routes in their collegiate careers but will finish as Gophers.
G - Payton Willis - remember this guy? Willis started his career at Vandy, transferred to Minnesota where he sat out one year then played 2. After that he decided to transfer and left what would likely have been a starting position to go to Charleston for his senior season. With the coaching change and the bonus Covid year to play, Willis is coming back to The Barn. Primarily playing off guard during his time at the U, he is likely the team’s starting point guard this year.
C - Eric Curry - Another circuitous collegiate career for the former, now current Gopher. Curry had a very promising freshman season before injuring his knee prior to the beginning of his sophomore season. Returned in 2018-19 but only played a partial season before injuring his right foot and missing the end of year. He then missed the entire 2019-20 season after injuring his knee again. Curry made yet another comeback for the 2020-21 season, playing off the bench in 29 games. It appeared as though he was going to spend this season on the new coaching staff, but finally announced he was going to play for one more season. He is likely to be the team’s starting center.
Up next are the kids who did not earn Gopher scholarship offer out of high school, but have not been given this opportunity. After playing at various mid-major schools, they are happy to return home and play for their home-state team.
F - Jamison Battle - a former DeLaSalle Islander who then went to George Washington to play for 2 seasons. Battle was a member of the All-Atlantic 10 third team last year. I would be very surprised if he was not starting at of of the forward spots in CBJ’s initial lineup. Battle is a talented kid who’s skill set should transfer well to the Big Ten. And Battle will have 3 years of eligibility at Minnesota.
G /F- Sean Sutherlin - Irondale’s finest who went the JUCO route out of high school and then played for New Hampshire the previous two seasons, not playing last year due to injury. Sutherlin is a lengthy guard/forward who excelled at rebounding from the perimeter. In his first season at New Hampshire he led the America East in defensive rebounding and double-doubles while starting all 28 games. Off the ball skills like this and being able to shoot the ball will earn him plenty of playing time, perhaps starting.
Just one here.
C - Treyton Thompson - The lone incoming high school player who decided to stick with this commitment to the Gophers. Thompson is 6’11”, from Alexandria and played his final two years of high school at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Indiana. Unsure if Thompson is physically ready to play in the paint in the Big Ten, but CBJ really doesn’t have much of a choice.
The remaining transfers who are coming into the program looking for an opportunity to show that they can play at the Big Ten level.
G - Luke Loewe - started every game for the last 3 years for William & Mary. Loewe has been an outstanding defender for The Tribe, a good shooter and very well could be the team’s second point guard. He worked with Ast Coach Jason Kemp last year and followed Kemp to the Gophers. If Loewe doesn’t start, he will be one of the first guards off the bench.
G - Eylijah Stephens - coming to the Gophers from Lafayette where Stephens was the 2nd leading scorer for the Leopards but spent last season coming off the bench. Could be a good scorer for Minnesota. Last year in the Patriot League, Stephens ranked in the top 10 in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage.
G - Abdoulaye Thiam - an exciting shooting guard who has just 1 year of collegiate experience, playing for a Florida JUCO last year. Thiam’s JUCO team was one of the best in the country last year and he averaged 15 points per game and shot over 48% from three. He will have 4 years of Gopher eligibility.
F - Charlie Daniels - played the last years at Stephen F Austin after playing JUCO basketball for Indian River State College (the same JUCO Thiam played for). Daniels is a big body who came off the bench for the Lumberjacks.
F - Danny Ogele - another forward transfer, this one from D2 Mercyhurst. Prior to Mercyhurst, Ogele played for Navy.
The moment you have all been waiting for. Who are going to be the starters for CBJ?
I think that there are three guys who are locks to start. Willis will play point, Battle will likely be your athletic PF and Curry will start at center. Who starts at those other two perimeter spots is anyone’s guess. There are really 4 guys fighting for 2 spots; Thiam, Stephens, Loewe and Sutherlin. The other two are likely the first guys coming off the bench.
PG - Payton Willis - Johnson has talked about WIllis playing the point and considering he is about the only guard who has major college playing experience, I suspect he will trust his offense to Willis.
SG - Abdoulaye Thiam - I think that this kid has some dynamic scoring ability that the rest of this roster is missing. If his shooting at Minnesota is anything close to what it was last year at the JUCO level, Johnson will have to have him on the floor.
SF - Luke Loewe - I think Loewe earns a spot starting because of his defense and mental toughness, two traits that Johnson has talked about since his opening press conference. If he can defend at the Big Ten level, he’ll have a place to start.
PF - Jamison Battle - Maybe the best transfer we got in this cycle and there is a dramatic need in the frontcourt on this roster. Battle maybe starts as a big SF if Ihnen is healthy, but he has to be the PF in this lineup.
C - Eric Curry - Really not terribly impressive off the bench this year but the frontcourt is so incredibly thin. Curry has to start.
Bench - Eylijah Stephens - comes in at any of the three perimeter spots and is accustomed to coming off the bench and scoring.
Bench - Sean Sutherlin - He will bring rebounding and shooting and some length off the bench. If we go small (which will have to happen at times, Sutherlin could end up playing PF).
Bench - Treyton Thompson - Maybe he isn’t ready for this, but he is going to have to play some minutes. Praying he turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
Bench - Daniels/Ogele - one of these guy is going to have to be ready to play. Neither is coming into the program with a resume that shows they’ll be capable of playing minutes in the Big Ten, but somebody will have to play some minutes.
There you have my official predictions.
This team is lacking the talent on paper to go along with a first year head coach. There is a reason that the Big Ten media predicted they will finish 14th in the Big Ten. What they can do is be one of those plucky teams who plays well together and does the little things well. Do those two things and maybe they’ll surprise a little bit.