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 frontcourt for Minnesota. The Gophers return plenty of talent that will be key to the Gophers’ NCAA Tournament run.
‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Minnesota Frontcourt:
- 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Reggie Lynch (Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year)
- Departures: None
- Additions: None
- Top Player: Reggie Lynch
Minnesota starts the season ranked No. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and fifth-year head coach Richard Pitino will have his hands full managing the high expectations following the Golden Gophers’ under-the-radar 24-10 record and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten.
Minnesota returns one of the more talented lineups in the Big Ten, arguably the best behind only preseason No. 2 Michigan State. However, the frontcourt depth will be one of the bigger questions for the Gophers after losing Eric Curry to an anterior cruciate ligament injury last month. With Curry’s injury responsibility will be placed on seniors Bakary Konate and Davonte Fitzgerald, who will be key off the bench.
Matz Stockman, a transfer from Louisville, will sit out 2017-18 because of NCAA transfer rules.
Senior center Reggie Lynch was a crucial addition to the Golden Gophers when he transferred in from Illinois State two seasons ago. After sitting out the 2015-16 season because of transfer rules, Lynch had a breakout season during Minnesota’s underdog run to finish 24-10. Lynch’s play on the defensive side and on the glass propelled him to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and will look to repeat this season. Lynch started 33 of 34 games and set a new Minnesota record for most blocks in a single season with 114 despite averaging only 23.2 minutes per game because of foul trouble. His 3.5 blocks per game ranked second in the country behind only Liam Thomas (4.2) of Nicholls State.
When Davonte Fitzgerald first transferred into Minnesota from Texas A&M following the 2014-15 season, Richard Pitino figured he would be a huge addition in the post and on the wing for the Golden Gophers. However, his road to dressing up in the Maroon and Gold has been hindered because of transfer rules and then surgery on his left ACL prior to the start of last season.
Fitzgerald had a promising freshman season with the Aggies averaging 7.3 points in just 15.7 minutes per game in 24 games before tearing his ACL toward the end of the year. In his time with Texas A&M, Fitzgerald showed flashes of what could be, including a 20-point performance against Mississippi State as a freshman. However, he saw his playing time decline significantly as a sophomore leading to his transfer following the season.
He will have two years of eligibility left and, if healthy, could prove to be a significant factor for the Gophers, especially since Eric Curry went down with his own knee injuries in early September.
With the injury to Curry and the uncertainty of Fitzgerald, Bakary Konate will be important depth for Minnesota that will feature starters, Lynch and Jordan Murphy. Konate appeared in 33 of the Gophers’ 34 games last season and grabbed about three rebounds per contest despite only averaging 9.7 minutes per game. His defense, rebounding and energy off the bench will be key for the Gophers’ run to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Two seasons ago, Konate was a constant fixture in the starting lineup with 21 starts in his 33 appearances and averaged 4.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per contest.
Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch will be the pillars of the Gophers defense and frontcourt, with Konate providing valuable minutes off the bench. The biggest question of intrigue will be the production of Davonte Fitzgerald. The knee injury to Eric Curry throws a wrench into things and the depth will be thin, but will provide opportunities for Konate and Fitzgerald off the bench. The duo could provide valuable depth and versatility for Minnesota and fifth-year head coach Richard Pitino.