It’s hard to define what success should be this season for a Minnesota team who has an abundance of problems to fix, but they’ll definitely rely on Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason to help figure it out.
In the past six seasons the Golden Gophers have had only one NCAA Tournament berth and expectations are once again not very high for the 2016-17 season according to pundits, with most placing them at the bottom of Big Ten rankings predictions.
Now, an NCAA Tournament berth or a Big Ten regular-season championship seems like an almost impossible goal for a team who finished with an overall record of 8-23 during the 2015-16 season, also going 2-16 in conference.
So the goal should be to focus on improving and progressing this season, with the idea of building some momentum towards the 2017-18 season. Of course if Minnesota can achieve more than that, maybe work their way to the NIT, then that’ll be even better for Richard Pitino and the Golden Gophers.
With a more polished roster than last season, Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason are going to have to be the catalysts. This roster has eight underclassmen, not counting Murphy, so youth can be an asset or a crutch if the right people are leading them.
The duo of Murphy and Mason were the top two scorers on the team last season and are the only players on the current roster who cracked the double-digit mark in points-per-game.
Mason is the junior lead guard at 6-foot-2 who led the team with 13.8 ppg and 4.5 asts. He shot just below 40-percent from the field (.389) and at 30-percent from three-point (.302). His running mate Murphy is a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward who averaged 11.6 ppg, second behind Mason, and led the team with eight rebounds-per-game. He shot at about 46-percent from the field (.461).
For a team who won eight games, these statistics could seem very perplexing in terms of per-game averages, but youth and experience factored into their numbers as well as poor shooting nights.
As a junior now and with Joey King departed, Mason must improve as Minnesota’s go-to-guy but also as their new leader. That title previously belonging to the aforementioned King.
Not only did Mason lead the team in points, but he was the only player to eclipse playing over 30 minutes-per-game (32.5), this is where they are going to need to rely on him the most. Usage rates have a lot to do with how often a player is on the court, touching the ball and affecting the outcome, so games will fall on his shoulders.
Murphy was third on the team with 26.7 minutes, which should potentially rise because of his worth to the team.
Statistics, percentages and etc. will increase or decrease depending on particular player’s progression, so that has a part in it, but building habits and rapport with your teammates is a short and long-term solution. They can potentially leave their imprint on Minnesota and whether you believe it or not it begins with this season.
Minnesota success might not be predicated in the win column, but these two guys will have the responsibility of starting to build the necessary habits to eventually turn this program around. If it shows this season then that’s success and could lead to more positive things in the near future.