Last year Minnesota finished 3-13 in the Big Ten, and 12-18 overall. After that 3-13 season, Monson is looking to replace four starters including Kris Humphries who was the first freshman to ever lead the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding. The only returning starter is point guard Adam Boone, who has been a disappointment both at Minnesota and North Carolina. Now, losing four starters would normally be a bad thing for a team, but when you went 3-13 the previous season and tied for last in the Big Ten with Penn State, things can only get better.
Monson will have a tough task at hand in replacing Kris Humphries production, but now the Gophers will not be a one man team. Humphries accounted for 31% of the Gophers offense and 27.8% of the Gophers rebounding.
Replacing a player that meant that much to a team with a 3-13 conference record may seem like a daunting task, but it basically looked throughout the entire season that Humphries did not care about helping Minnesota win, all he cared about was putting up gaudy numbers and getting into the NBA. In fact it is believed that is why Duke let Humphries out of his Letter of Intent without malice, because he made it known to the Duke coaching staff that he would be playing for himself and not the team. His play in Minneapolis did little to dispute this claim.
So how does Dan Monson go about finding replacements for Michael Bauer, Stan Gaines, Kris Humphries, and Ben Johnson? How about eight freshmen and three new juniors? Three of the players are walk ons to the Minnesota program: 6-5 junior Zach Puchtel is a former Harvard football player, 6-1 freshman Ryan Saunders is the son of Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Flip Saunders, and 6-5 freshman Alex Popp.
Among the new players that were not walk ons and are expected to contribute in some form or another are 6-6 junior forward J'son Stamper, who was the fourth best rebounder in the junior college circuit last season, 6-5 junior forward Vincent Grier who was known for his defense on the junior college level, and 6-9 freshman forward Dan Coleman who becomes eligible after sitting out last season because transferred back home from Boston College.
With only four players on the team this year that played last season, and eleven newcomers, the Gophers will be a completely different team in the 2004-2005 season. Different does not mean better, just different. There is no one on this Gopher team that is as talented as Kris Humphries was, but there is also no one on this team that is as selfish as he was. Dan Coleman, Humphries' high school teammate, is expected to step in at Humphries old position, but he will be hard pressed to match his production. In fact, there is no way Coleman will come close to matching Humphries stat line from last season, but by passing the ball once a game, he will help make the Gophers a better team.
The four letter winners that are returning have never been asked to carry the load for Minnesota offensively, because they have either had Rick Rickert or Kris Humphries on their team. How Dan Monson will mix and match this team to get it to score points will be interesting, but most Monson teams have always been able to score points, it is the defense that should worry Gopher fans. Last season, even with Humphries on the glass, Minnesota's defensive efficiency was only ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten last season. On offense, they were averaging more than one point per possession, but when you are only score 1.01 points per possession and you are allowing the opposition to score 1.05 points per possession, you will be losing a lot of basketball games.
'How will the Gopher's defense improve?' is a major question that will need to be answered if the Gophers want to get out of the Big Ten cellar. Right now, I don't see how they will improve defensively, as almost all freshman struggle to adjust to playing real defense as they adjust to playing against the better competition of the NCAA.
The fact that Minnesota has not seen the NCAA Tournament since Dan Monson took over as head coach is probably good proof that when the NCAA wants to sanction a program for violating NCAA regulations, they can affect the program and harm the school. The recruiting limitations levied by the NCAA on the University of Minnesota for the academic scandal has definitely rocked the foundation of the Golden Gophers to the point that they are brining in eleven new players in 2004 to build up numbers once again. The Class of 2005 was the first time in his Minnesota tenure that Monson could recruit normally without limitations, and it was one of his better classes. The question remains as to whether or not Monson will be around to coach them, but he will probably remain at Minnesota thanks to a hefty buy out clause in his contract.
When you are forced to rely on players like Jeff Hagen, Brent Lawson, and Adam Boone as your senior leaders, you will probably have a very bad season. Red shirt freshman Dan Coleman could surprise the followers of the Minnesota program, but he will not make anyone forget Kris Humphries production. It will be a long season in Minneapolis, but this is a season where young players will adjust to the college game and learn Monson's system. While winning this year would be nice for Monson, I am sure he is looking more towards next season to break into the NCAA Tournament as the Head Coach of the Golden Gophers for the first time.
Predicted Conference Record: 3-13 - They will finish last in the conference.
Predicted All Big Ten Team Members
All Freshman Team - Dan Coleman