This is the Minnesota feature in which we address what the three most important questions each team must answer heading into the 2019-20 season.
1. What is the offense going to look like without Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey?
Richard Pitino has a lot of unknowns as his team enters the 2019-20 season. He lost his two leading scorers from last season, Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy. Furthermore, Coffey lad the team in percentage of possessions used with 26.1 percent with Murphy not far behind at 25.1 percent used. That's over 50 percent of possession usage out the door. The most likely candidate to take over the offense this season is point guard Marcus Carr. Carr sat out last season after transferring from Pitt. Prior to his transfer, he averaged ten points per game as a true freshman in the ACC for a struggling Pitt team.
Carr is expected to be the leader of this team while playing the combo guard role. He should be able to get things going for teammates, evidenced by his four assists per game as a freshman. However, at the end of the shot clock, Carr can also go get his if need be. The transfer should play a huge role in keeping the Gophers competitive this season despite the significant losses from a tournament team last year.
2. How much can Pitino rely on his freshmen this year?
The Gophers were able to leverage the strong season last year into quite a respectable 2019 recruiting class. They bring in four commits which resulted in the fourth-ranked class in the Big Ten, a significant accomplishment for Minnesota. The biggest name coming to Minneapolis this offseason is coming all the way from Germany. Isaiah Ihnen is a 6-foot-9 canvas that has loads of raw potential. Ihnen will probably not start for the Gophers this season as their frontcourt is pretty much set with returning starter Daniel Oturu and grad transfer Alihan Demir. However, the freshman should be able to provide a spark off the bench, flashing some point-forward ability. Pitino described Ihnen as “Immensely talented. Probably the fastest guy on our team. Still learning the system. Long arms. Can knock down the three and drive it. Has some ‘wow’ moments.”
Another freshman that Big Ten fans should keep their eyes on is Tre’ Williams, a two-guard out of Utah. Williams has to work on his efficiency on the offensive end, however, you will never see this kid’s confidence waiver. He averaged 15 points per game during the team’s Italy trip this offseason. Pitino noted that they want to see his 42% from the line and 32% from beyond the arc increase. Nevertheless, Gophers’ fans shouldn’t worry as the scoring ability is clearly there with this freshman and could be a guy that Pitino just lets loose when the offense is struggling.
3. Can the returners all take another step to make up for losing three starters from last year?
With the departures of Coffey, Murphy and Dupree McBrayer, the Gophers have a lot of holes to fill. Everyone on the roster has to take on a bigger role. Besides the additions via transfers and incoming freshmen, Pitino is also looking for sophomore Daniel Oturu (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Gabe Kalscheur (10.0 ppg) to take that next step. For Uturu, that means staying out of foul trouble while also replacing some of Jordan Murphy’s rebounding ability. Meanwhile, Kalscheur will be relied upon to play a bigger role in the offense. The Gophers won’t be able to just rely upon two All-Big Ten caliber players like they did last year.
The 2019-20 season may be a bit painful for Minnesota basketball fans. The Gophers have been picked to finished in the bottom third of the conference by basically everyone. However, that is mostly due to the unknowns surrounding the program. If the newcomers step up in unexpected ways, this team could find itself at vying for an NIT bid at the end of the season. Regardless, expect this Minnesota team to be more team-ball heavy as opposed to relying on their two stars like last year.