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Minnesota 2017-18 Preview: Gophers Backcourt Looks to Impress

Mason and Coffey look to build off impressive seasons.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Minnesota vs Middle Tennessee State
Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Nate Mason (2) drives around defender Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders guard Aldonis Foote (45) during the first quarter of the game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at BMO Harris Bradley Center. 
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the backcourt for Minnesota. The Gophers return plenty of talent in the backcourt that will be key to the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament run.

‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Minnesota Backcourt:

  • 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Nate Mason (1st Team), Amir Coffey (All-Freshman)
  • Departures: None
  • Additions: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris
  • Top Player: Nate Mason

If last season was any indication, the Twin Cities are in for a treat when it comes to the Gophers basketball team. Minnesota is projected to be a preseason Top 25 team and will return an extraordinary amount of talent that projects to finish near the top of the Big Ten. The Gophers also will be led by fifth-year head coach Richard Pitino, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season for leading his squad to a 24-10 finish. Minnesota will have high expectations as the season nears but will be led by one of the better backcourt rotations in the conference.

“(The expectations are) pretty high, and that’s okay,” Pitino said in his September 29th press conference. “I’m excited about it.”

Nate Mason

If the Golden Gophers want to make the Sweet Sixteen, officially, for the first time since 1990, it all starts with senior guard Nate Mason. As a First Team All-Big Ten member last season, the 6-foot-2 point guard from Decatur, Georgia ranked near the top of the Big Ten in numerous categories. Though he’s never been an especially prolific shooter, Mason has proven to be able to create his own shot by driving the basket or hitting the three. He ranked ninth in conference scoring (15.2 ppg), T-4th in assists (5.0 apg), T-5th in steals (1.4 spg), and 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.6).

Since averaging 9.8 points per game as a freshman, Mason has steadily improved each season and could easily be involved in Big Ten Player of the Year talks as the Gophers look to make a deep postseason run.

“You can tell he’s (ready) to take the next step,” Pitino said during his September 29th Press Conference. “When he plays good, we play really good.”

Amir Coffey

If Mason is the Gophers’ go-to guy offensively, sophomore guard Amir Coffey is next in line. As a freshman, Coffey stepped up for Minnesota’s underdog team in the Big Ten and will play an even bigger role as the Gophers look for a deep postseason run. Coffey showed flashes of a bonafide star, including a 30-point game against St. Johns and scored at least 10 points in 22 of 33 games started as a true freshman — good enough for a Freshman All-Big Ten team.

Isaiah Washington

The biggest get for the Golden Gophers in the offseason is Isaiah Washington — New York’s Mr. Basketball recipient last season. The minutes might not be there right away for the freshman out of St. Raymond’s, but Washington has an opportunity to make waves off the bench for a potential player in the NCAA Tournament. As a senior, Washington scored 26 points a game and six assists.

Overall

Minnesota’s backcourt will be one of its strengths with Mason and Coffey leading the way after successful 2016-17 seasons. Coffey will be intriguing and could very well make a play at a possible spot in the NBA Draft if he chooses to enter, while Mason will be the foundation for the Gophers to build on as all indications lead to a promising season.