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Minnesota Basketball: Ben Johnson’s cupboard is bare, he is restocking

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Ben Johnson has a lot of work ahead of him to rebuild the Gopher roster.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

With the change in a head coach, we often will write a post that assesses the “cupboard.” I’ve assessed how bare or stocked the cupboard was when Tim Brewster was hired, Jerry Kill, PJ Fleck, Tubby Smith and Richard Pitino. So naturally I was inclined to write such an article for Ben Johnson, now that he has taken the reigns of the Gopher basketball program.

Typically this exercise is done to take a look at what is the overall talent level that new coach inherited from the previous one. How many returning starters? What is the returning level production? Just how good are the pieces that are returning? It is often more of an indictment on the previous staff on what kind of shape they left the program?

This little endeavor for Ben Johnson was really very different from any other time we have seen a change in coaching staff for either football or basketball.

The advent of the Transfer Portal has changed the offseason of college basketball in a significant way. Now with the blanket transfer waiver in effect along with the bonus covid year for most, there is free agent chaos in college basketball.

Add in a coaching change the Gopher roster is no in flux, it was nearly wiped clean.

Looking back at the last couple basketball coaching changes.

Tubby Smith took over from Dan Monson in 2007. His 07-08 team saw a turnaround from 8-22 the prior season to a 20-win season. And he managed to make the NCAA Tournament in year 2.

Richard Pitino took over from Smith in 2013. In his first season, he set a school record with 25 wins and that team won the NIT.

What those guys had in their early years was quality players returning. Smith retained Lawrence McKenzie, Spencer Tollackson, Damian Johnson and Dan Coleman from the previous staff while also keeping Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber as committed incoming freshmen. Pitino wasn’t quite a fortunate in returning guys, but he did get 1 more year out Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, who were his leading scorers in 2013-14.

Ben Johnson, will not have the same luxury as his two predecessors. Here’s a look at returning points scored for each of the new coaches.

  • Tubby Smith - 87.1% points returning from prior year
  • Richard Pitino - 51.8%
  • Ben Johnson - 25.2% (this is assuming Brandon Johnson, Both Gach and Isaiah Ihnen. Johnson makes up over half of the returning points)

Minutes Played?

  • Smith - 80.0%
  • Pitino - 49.8%
  • Johnson - 30.6%

As you can see, Ben Johnson has very little to work with. Tubby returned his 3 leading scorers, Pitino his top 2. Johnson? He will get back his 4th leading scorer.

This type of post has previously been looking at what kind of talent level did the previous coach leave the new one. But this year, it has nothing to do with the level of talent that Pitino left on this roster. In 2021 the transfer portal has wrecked the Gopher roster.

So with the cupboard bare, Johnson has to spend a LOT of time just trying to fill out a full roster while also focusing considerable time on what will be his first recruiting class.

Restocking the cupboard is more than just accumulating names. This is a delicate balance of getting talent for your first season but really focusing on building your roster in a way that sets you up for sustained success.

While it is easy to start looking ahead to the 2021-22 season, it really is important to remember that Ben Johnson wasn’t hired for success in year 1. More and more, I’m convinced that success in year 1 is going to be a real challenge.

Several of the new names being added to the roster are 1-year rentals. None of Payton Willis, Parker Fox, Sean Sutherlin, EJ Stephens and Luke Loewe really factor into the long-term plans for Gopher basketball.

Which means that the real stocking begins with the class of 2022. It has been mentioned that this class locally is very deep, with 7 kids who have received a 4-star rating.

This class is going to be vital to the rebuild that Johnson is in the midst of.

This upcoming season is going to be interesting, but not exactly a strong indication of what to expect in the Ben Johnson era. The cupboard was robbed by the transfer portal, not necessarily due to the prior staff. So there is a lot of work to do to rebuild this roster. More so than other transitions, Coach Johnson has a lot of work to do.