It's early, so we don't want to jump to any rash conclusions. The preseason is a great time to experiment with lineups, without too much at stake (maybe other than pride). Pitino, perhaps more than any other Big Ten coach, has a few rotational components to figure out (both in the frontcourt and backcourt). For the moment, we're going to look at the frontcourt, and see if we learned anything from the first two exhibition games.
Before diving into the games, it's worth mentioning: Bakary Konate, who's expected to anchor the five for Minnesota, sat out both preseason games with a stress fracture in his foot. (He's supposedly going to be ready for the opener on November 13th vs. the University of Missouri - Kansas City.)
Unfortunately for Pitino, he couldn't work out his rotation with Konate, who again is expected to be a major contributor. His injury does allow Pitino to try other lineups, and perhaps glimpse what going small might look like. Let's take a look at each exhibition game from the frontcourt's perspective.
Minnesota 74, Minnesota Crookston 57
Minnesota struggled in the first half, and only led by four at the break. They opened it up in the second half putting together a couple big runs.
Charles Buggs (24 minutes), Joey King (28 minutes) and Gaston Diedhiou (24 minutes) played evenly, and shot a combined 10-for-24 from the floor. Buggs clearly showed some range, hitting two threes, but as a group, they didn't get to the line much (just 2-for-3).
Minnesota held a slight rebounding edge (46-45), and the trio combined for 15 rebounds. Diedhiou worked the offense glass hard. (Six of his eight rebounds were offensive.) But, it's clear they'll need King and Buggs to attack the glass a little more. Having guards who rebound will help them overcome any size deficiencies inside.
The surprise, though, in this game, has to be the play of freshman Jordan Murphy. Slotted on the wing, he led all Gophers with 19 points and nine rebounds. He exploded in the second half, and Pitino has talked about going small with Murphy and Diedhiou/Buggs/King. That lineup could prove to be dangerous if Murphy continues to score and rebound as he did in the first exhibition.
Minnesota 81, Southwest Minnesota State 64
In the final preseason game, Minnesota pulled away from SMSU early, and extended the lead into the second half. Based on the statistics, it's probably fair to say the frontcourt regressed a bit.
King hit 5-of-7 from behind the arc, but the group didn't score much. Diedhiou finished with six points, and Buggs didn't score.
They also got significantly outrebounded (41-28), which emphasizes the problem. Buggs and King can shoot, and Diedhiou will finish most opportunities near the basket, but they're going to have to defend and rebound. I'm not saying anything Pitino doesn't already know, but the regular season has arrived. Pitino can get creative with lineups, and Konate will help when he's healthy, but overall, this group will struggle to rebound and protect the rim.
Jordan Murphy, who looked impressive in the intrasquad scrimmage and first preseason game, only took four shots in 20 minutes. (He did have eight points and four rebounds.) However, he's a freshman, and more than likely, despite his talent, he'll look like one occasionally. Such was the case against SMSU.
With all that, I'm not completely sure we learned anything new. The preseason confirmed some early concerns about depth and experience in the frontcourt. It's not all doom-and-gloom though. Murphy showed flashes of brilliance, and if he can play more consistently and take on a larger role, that'll help the frontcourt. Pitino can move him to the four in smaller lineups.
Konate is the other wildcard, only from a health standpoint. He is talented enough to play solid minutes, and to anchor the interior defense. But, a foot injury for a big man is always concerning. (Any foot injuries for any player are intimidating.)
Overall, perhaps we've just learned that Pitino will be coaching this group on the fly, and it should be interesting.