A More Versatile Team
With three upperclassmen transfers and a top 25-30 recruiting class of three players Coach Pitino has six new guys to add to the four returning starters from last year’s team.
Coach Pitino has the depth, size, and experience in his fourth year that he didn’t in previous seasons.
“We will be able to play multiple ways because we will be more versatile throughout our line-up,” said Pitino. “We can play in different ways which we couldn’t do last year. We have versatility and we have depth.
“Our guys have had a great attitude, we had a great summer on the court and in the classroom with a team 3.3 grade point average. This will be the most talented and experienced team I’ve had.
“We have a roster that is equipped to battle in the Big Ten because it has experience. We will be balanced. We will be a more complete team.”
The exciting topic for fans to discuss right now is, who will start? Pitino seems secure on two positions with the other spots being up for competition when practice begins daily this October.
“I definitely envision Nate Mason starting and I envision Jordan Murphy starting,” said Pitino. “My shooting guard could be Dupree McBrayer or it could be Akeem Springs. At small forward it could be Amir Coffey, it could be Davonte Fitzgerald, could be Michael Hurt.
“We also have Eric Curry who has really surprised. Also, I would of expected to plug in Reggie Lynch possibly, coming from Illinois State but people forget he had shoulder surgery and hasn’t practiced in seven months. Reggie hasn’t played since February.
“So we have to figure out where he will be at when he gets back on the court. I envision Mason and Murphy starting and then it could go other ways with the rest but overall this will be a more versatile team.”
Experience is something that Coach Pitino spoke of extensively this morning and he thinks the experience makes this the most talented Gopher team he’s had as well as the most versatile.
“Dupree McBraryer started as a freshman and he’s more experienced. Jordan Murphy started as a freshman is now more experienced. Bakary Konate has had to play before he is ready, but he’s more experienced. Nate Mason has been playing big minutes for two years.
“We also have Davonte Fitzgerald who is a fourth year player now who has great experience. Before he got hurt at Texas A&M he was really a great young player. Akeem Springs now is in his fifth season so again, there is that word experience. We didn’t have it last year but we are excited that we now have a lot of as it will make us deeper and more talented.”
Stronger Up Front
Last year the Gophers rotated between Bakary Konate, Joey King, and Jordan Murphy as starters up front. King has graduated but in his place the Gophers add Eric Curry and Reggie Lynch plus they also have Gaston Diedhiou who will be a junior and there are some lengthy and tall small forwards who could also play the four spot.
“Jordan Murphy is about 240 pounds right now, he’s added some weight,” Pitino stated. “Murphy has put in a lot of work to get stronger and to become more skilled. Jordan really performed well and he did that when he really didn’t know what he was doing.
“Jordan makes some great moves, was a fantastic rebounder, and now he just has to learn how to play more. He looks great, is really big, now he needs to be more creative on the block. People have talked about him improving as a skill guy out of the paint but he doesn’t have to go away from the basket and be skilled, he can just be a beast on the block. Go be a beast and I think he will be. (Jordan) needs to be a better defensive rebounder.
“Joey King was a pick and pop guy, he provided a lot of three-pointers but he didn’t give us a lot of rebounding. This year we will be bigger, we will be 6-foot-8 at the small forward and have several bigs with experience and size so we will rebound better.”
Lynch of course has dealt with a sexual assault charge since the spring and he is getting over a shoulder injury. This morning Coach Pitino was asked by all the radio stations about Reggie’s status but right now there is little he can say.
“Nothing new with Reggie Lynch, nothing new has happened,” Coach Pitino said. “The University has to finish up what they are doing and then we can move on. I can’t comment further on that.
“I have no timetable on when things will start happening with this, there is not much I can say. Mark Croyle and myself, we are not involved, it’s a University deal. We hope this is done soon.”
The Gophers brought in that a freshman group that can play several positions. You could see Amir Coffey play possibly four different positions, Michael Hurt could play both forward spots, and Eric Curry could play both the four and the five up front.
Pitino once again spoke about his excellent freshmen class and how they can help the team next season.
“Amir is a guy that has won big at every level. He’s big, can pass the ball, and has a chance to play at the next level. You always worry with freshman about their defense, you worry about handling scouting reports, and you have to see what guys are like when they have to deal with class during the rigors of the season, but Amir did great in the summer.
“Amir is better defensively than I thought, he’s a great passer, and he has a chance to have a great year. Amir Coffey and Michael Hurt were 1-2 in Minnesota High School Basketball last year as far as Mr. Basketball goes. Michael wants to be a doctor one day, he’s really smart and one of the hardest workers I’ve seen.
“Add in Eric Curry who can play multiple positions and is 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10 and I like his versatility. Curry has been excellent, a big surprise.”
The Shooting Guard Position
Pitino mentioned that the shooting guard position could have sophomore Dupree McBrayer starting or it could have Akeem Spring, the fifth year transfer from UW-Milwaukee in that spot.
Both players have coach Pitino excited. Springs was a part of a win at Williams Arena last year when he scored double figures for UW-Milwaukee when they beat Minnesota in December.
“We learned about Akeem Springs because he came into our building and beat us, if you can’t beat them join them I guess,” said Pitino with a laugh.
“Adding him was really big for our off-season as we beat out several really good schools for him. Akeem has a Big Ten body, he is a leader and when you talk to him you know you are talking to a leader and an experienced player. He went in and battled Wisconsin, beat us. He’s an experienced guy, a 5th year guy which is what we need."
Springs will play with McBrayer in line-ups often but they are also going to be competing against each other for a starting spot. McBrayer held that starting spot before being suspended at the end of last season.
“Dupree McBrayer was fantastic this off-season,” Pitino said. “He was one of our hardest working guys, and definitely one of the most improved.
“Dupree got better as a shooter at the end of the year and he improved that putting in a lot of work this off-season. He was also named the Student-Athlete of the Month recently.”
The New Assistant
As we reported was likely to happen last Friday and as Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels reported was going to happen 30 minutes after our article, former Tulane Head Coach Ed Conroy will join the Minnesota staff, although it’s not official yet.
“Ed is not officially hired yet in terms of the paper work but we are going to hire him,” said Pitino. “I think Ed will be able to help our assistants and I think he will be able to help me.
“It will be nice to be able to turn to a guy who has done it before in the middle of the season and ask for advice. We have great assistants but it will be nice to turn to a coach who has been a head coach and who is a veteran. Ed was head coach at Tulane and at the Citadel and he won at the The Citadel which is almost impossible.”
Playing in a Football Stadium
It’s been a long time since the Gopher basketball team played a basketball game in a 60,000 plus football stadium. The last time would be Minnesota competing in the 1997 Final Four in Indianapolis as well as in the Alamo Dome in the Sweet 16/Elite Eight round that year.
The last time Minnesota played a basketball game in town in a big stadium was 1995-96 when the Gophers faced California in the Metrodome in preparation for the 1996 Sweet 16/Elite 8 round.
“We have to play a game in the US Bank Stadium next year to prepare the facility for the Final Four,” said Pitino. “Those games are scary because you lose a home game, but it will be a great experience to play in that beautiful building.
“We expect to bring in a really good opponent, we don’t know who that will be but hopefully we get a good opponent. It will hold about 60,000 people so it will be a different experience.”