Minnesota’s athletic director Mark Coyle said over the weekend that Richard Pitino will remain the head basketball coach in 2020-’21. Pitino’s future was up in the air as the season drew to a close and some Gopher fans were hoping for a change at the top of the program.
Pitino’s tenure in Minneapolis has been a rollercoaster since taking over for Tubby Smith in 2013. He surprised in his first season, winning 25 games and being crowned NIT champs. Two years later, the Gophers won just eight games total. This was followed by an NCAA Tournament berth in 2017, including Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. They entered the 2017-’18 year with big expectations, ranking as high as No. 12, however failed to reach to the Tournament altogether.
Despite having one of the most physically dominant big men in the conference this year in Daniel Oturu, the Gophers once again failed to have the type of season many were hoping for. Saving for some miracle run in the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota would have been on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. What made the season even more frustrating were the flashes of what this team could do when they were right, including an 18-point victory over Wisconsin.
On the surface, this Minnesota team should have finished better than 12th in the conference. In Big Ten play, they were sixth in points per game and eighth in points allowed per game. However, these surface-level stats are misleading as the Gophers’s last four victories (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska, Northwestern in order) were won by an average of 23.25 points while they’re last six losses were by an average of 4.8 points. In other words, Minnesota had a ton of “empty stats” and weren’t able to get the job done when the game was on the line in the closing moments.
Pitino will return for his eighth season and things may be bright for this young roster. Daniel Oturu will likely enter the NBA Draft after averaging 20 and 11 but would be a frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year if he were to return. Marcus Carr should return after putting up 15 ppg, 5 rpg, and 6 apg in only his sophomore year. Also, Gabe Kalscheur looks to build off his solid sophomore season after averaging 11 points per game. The Gophers also bring in two top 150 recruits this offseason in Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Martice Mitchell.
Looking at the Gophers’ trend of following up disappointment with an NCAA Tournament berth, don’t be surprised if they’re back in the top half of the Big Ten next season. The conference as a whole will be interesting to follow as a lot of the top players from this season will be entering the NBA Draft whenever that takes place this summer. For now, Pitino remains at the helm and will try to get Minnesota back to, most likely, the most anticipated NCAA Tournament ever in 2021.