About a month ago, I turned to this site to gripe about how poor the Minnesota Golden Gophers bench was. At that time, the team had only suffered one loss, and have since dropped two more games. I stated in that article that the Gophers would be going nowhere if their bench did not produce at a higher level. That statement has since been proven to be a fact. However, there has been a rising bright spot within the bench unit. It is none other than the homegrown product, Michael Hurt.
Much of Hurt’s recent success in Minnesota’s last two wins has to do with his usage. Due to an injury to Dupree McBrayer, Hurt was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time last Thursday against Oral Roberts. While many felt that Richard Pitino should have opted for the more talented Isaiah Washington, he picked Hurt instead. Needless to say, Hurt has proven Pitino to be a genius with his play as a starter.
In the 77-63 win over the Golden Eagles, the sophomore hit the double figure mark in scoring. He netted 10 points on three of seven shooting in 26 minutes of action. It was Hurt’s first time scoring over 10 points in his Gopher career. He also compiled nearly twice as many minutes as he normally would coming off the bench.
Come Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic, Hurt saw himself in the starting five once again. Playing in 27 minutes of that game, he totaled eight points on three of four shooting. So, as a starter he is currently putting up nine points a game on 55 percent shooting. For being thrust into the spotlight quickly, those stats may not overwhelm you, but they certainly are efficient.
Perhaps that is what Richard Pitino saw in him while recruiting him just two short years ago. Playing at John Marshall High School, a school in the top echelon of Minnesota High School basketball (4A) he poured in 19.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. Not only that, he finished second in Minnesota Mr. Basketball voting, the winner that year? Hurt’s teammate, Amir Coffey.
It was with this versatility, the ability to score, pass, and rebound that caught Pitino’s eye. While he has not been afforded too many opportunities so far, he has certainly made the most of the one’s he has been given. Hurt is a player to watch come next year and the following year for sure.
If he continues to play at the high and efficient level he is playing at now, Hurt may see an expanded role once he returns to the bench. However, when that will occur is yet to be determined. McBrayer’s status is constantly up in the air, and Hurt may again get the call to start this Saturday against Harvard. Also, include the fact that Nate Mason may miss some time with an ankle injury he suffered in their win over Florida Atlantic.
Mason and Hurt do not play the same position, but there is a possibility that Pitino could still include Hurt in the starting lineup if Mason is out. He could easily move Amir Coffey to the point guard while keeping Hurt at small forward and playing McBrayer (if healthy) in the two guard spot. If McBrayer is not healthy, then expect to see Hurt and Isaiah Washington on the floor to start games.
Richard Pitino does not expect Mason to miss very much time, which is great news for the Gophers. However, Dupree McBrayer’s status is still uncertain as far as how long his injury will linger. As long as McBrayer sits, expect to see Michael Hurt in the starting lineup. He has no doubt earned that opportunity so far this season.