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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers Frontcourt

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Minnesota will look different up front this season. Some key departures means newer faces will step into more significant roles. Let's look at the position group heading into 2015-2016.

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Minnesota may be a bit thin (experience and depth-wise) upfront this season. Maurice Walker (6'10") and Elliot Eliason (6'11") have both graduated, which means considerable holes in minutes and production. Basically, this season's frontcourt is talented and loaded with potential, but short on experience and depth. On offense, Pitino will lean more heavily on his guards, but defensively, the frontcourt will move into the spotlight a bit. Let's look at the group.

Center:  Bakary Konate

Bakary Konate (6'11", 225) is the projected starter and really the only true five on the roster. He only played about nine minutes a game last season, so it's a big leap to the starting lineup. Konate is a raw talent, who perhaps isn't as refined skill-wise, but has the athletic ability to play in the Big Ten. Reportedly, Louisville offered Konate a scholarship in 2013, for what it's worth.

He will need to build on his frame, and perhaps develop a couple "go-to" post moves. Konate can hit a turnaround jumper with some consistency, but needs to bring more to the table offensively. Defensively, he appears to be exactly what the Gophers need. He's aggressive, and will challenge shots at the rim. Adding size and strength will make him more imposing on that end.

Konate's development notwithstanding, the depth is still troubling. They don't have much behind him and if Konate is in foul trouble, or his development stagnates, Minnesota doesn't have many options other than going small.

Power Forwards:  Joey King, Charles BuggsGaston Diedhiou

Joey King (Sr.) is experienced and someone who played nearly 30 MPG last season. He's 6'9", 235 lbs., so a bit more physically developed, but not someone who plays predominantly inside (you can read a scouting report on him here. It's from 2013, but still applicable). King plays more like a stretch four, shooting 41 percent from three last year. His game was complementary to Walker and Eliason, but Minnesota needs interior defense/rebounding and , unfortunately, King's game isn't suited for that role.

Charles Buggs (Jr.) played in every game as a sophomore (13 MPG). With the depth, or lack thereof, I assume he'll expand his minutes in 2015-2016. His size (6'9", 220) makes him similar to King, although he's not as prolific on the perimeter. Buggs is a great athlete though and can really jump. They'll leverage his athleticism when forced to play smaller lineups because he could drive by larger, slower defenders, and perhaps hang tough defensively and on the boards. He's added about 30 pounds since arriving at Minnesota, which was a knock on him coming out, so physically he ought to be better equipped to help inside.

Gaston Diedhiou, much like Konate, is the upside at power forward. In fact, Minnesota fans are already salivating over the Konate/Diedhiou tandem. Once he passed the English equivalency exam, Diedhiou became a fixture in the rotation. He didn't play huge minutes, but enough to get a taste. Pitino even tried the Konate/Diedhiou pairing last season against Wisconsin and the results were poor. In fairness, they were young and raw, and that was a tough matchup.

Overall

Let's set aside player development, or assume Konate and Diedhiou take positive steps (which isn't a certainty). Obviously, Pitino hopes Konate and Diedhiou realize their potential. Even so, the depth is concerning. The frontcourt is so thin they won't have much lineup flexibility. Throw in the possibility of foul trouble and Pitino could get forced into uncomfortable matchups.

Pitino's offense is suited for smaller lineups that can shoot and attack the basket with athleticism, but I worry about how they'll guard and rebound. I've been harping on depth and that's where this all falls apart to an extent. Pitino has four guys, only one who's played a lot (King), to fill 80 minutes. The numbers may not look all that bad, but the most experienced player (King) is more of a stretch four and only one guy (Konate) has true center size. I don't mean to run down this group as each player has room for growth, and quite frankly, probably will improve. But it's the uncertainty and lack of depth that are the concerns here.