Fresh off of a disappointing NCAA Tournament loss to Middle Tennessee last month, the Gophers return several players to next year’s squad. The team returns four of five starters in Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy, Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey.
Coach Rick Pitino will have plenty of options for the fifth starting position. Dupree McBrayer will likely step in as a starter, but he also has Eric Curry, Michael Hurt, Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou returning, who all played valuable minutes off the bench last season.
Pitino will also have the luxury of mixing in incoming freshmen Isaiah Washington and and Jamir Harris into the rotation. Both Washington and Harris are 6’1” guards who will help replace Akeem Springs’ backcourt production. Along with Washington and Harris, Pitino will also add former Texas A&M transfer 6’8” Davonte Fitzgerald, who sat out last season due to a torn ACL.
With plenty of pieces returning, and incoming talented recruits added to mix, the Gophers will be one of the favorites to win the Big Ten next season. If a Big Ten title is going to happen, Minnesota will need continued excellence from Mason, who was on the All-Big Ten first-team last season.
Mason will be looking to take his game to the next level, and to do that he’ll need add a consistent catch and shoot jumper. Mason shot just 37 percent from the field last season. Adding a mid-range game this offseason, should make him a more efficient player. And with all the weapons on next year’s squad, the Gophers won’t necessarily need Mason to score a ton, the team just needs him to be as efficient as possible.
Along with Mason, Murphy needs to make improvements to his jump shot. Murphy was 4-32 from three last season. If Murphy can add a consistent outside shot, he could be a special player next season. Murphy had an excellent sophomore year, but to become a complete all-around player, he’ll need be a threat from the outside.
Speaking of a potential special player, Coffey has the best chance to make the biggest leap forward as a player next season. In the final game of the season, Coffey led the team in points, showing off his shooting stroke and his ability to attack off the dribble. Coffey was spectacular during his freshman season, scoring 12.2 points per game on 44% shooting.
Although Coffey was great last season, he still has some areas that need some fine-tuning. It starts with adding some weight and strength. The gained strength will allow him to finish consistently around the rim, something he struggling with at times last season. Bulking up will also assist him on the defensive end.
Lynch, the final piece of last season’s starting lineup, doesn’t have much to improve on the defensive end. The one thing Pitino will ask of him, is cut down on the fouls next season, the team needs his shot blocking on the floor as much as possible.
Where he needs to commit some practice time to, is his post moves and shooting touch down low. Lynch has never developed into a player that is able to get a easy bucket down low, that could change with some offseason work.
With nearly every player returning from last season’s squad, expectations will be high for next season, but certainly reachable.