Ben Johnson Needs Transfer Portal Reinforcements This Offseason

Photo: Minnesota Gophers

Ben Johnson had his first-year Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team playing well early in the season. But after starting 10-1 and sweeping the non-conference schedule, Big Ten play has slapped the new head coach and his batch of misfit transfers, with a large dose of reality. The now 11-9 (2-9) Gophers aren’t talented enough, big enough or deep enough to be competitive in a loaded power five conference.

And given this team will lose most of its best players after the season, including four of five starters, life doesn’t look like it’ll get any easier going forward. Unless, that is, Ben Johnson can reach back into the transfer portal and dig out higher-end talent than he did last offseason.

Johnson Plans Transfer Portal Expedition

The first-year head coach says that’s his plan. Whether or not he finds the success he seeks will be another question entirely.

“The youth movement is real,” Johnson said. “You love young talent, but to stay competitive you have to have older pieces. I think we are definitely seeing that this year.”

After listing the players coming back and coming in, Johnson asked the question: “What do we need?”

“Probably, we will look in the (transfer) portal,” he continued. “I think it’s something that, again, has really helped us this year. It’s got to be the right guy. If it happens to be the right high school guy, we won’t not take him, but I do think we are going to look into the portal to get some experience. To get a guy who understands this is what we do and how we play.”

Ben Johnson (via Andy Greder – Pioneer Press)

Transfer Portal 2021

Johnson isn’t void of portal success, even with the limited time he’s had to use it. After Richard Pitino left the Minnesota Gophers program last offseason, all but one player (Isaiah Ihnen) transferred out of town. So Ben and his staff reached in and pulled NINE players out of the portal.

The talent included Jamison Battle, Payton Willis and Parker Fox. Still, he failed to get a legitimate big man, which has proven costly in Big Ten play. Then, both Fox and Ihnen — two projected starters — were lost to the season with injuries. That exacerbated Minnesota’s depth problem, which has also proven costly late in Big Ten games.

Next Year’s Squad

Both Ihnen and Fox are expected back to start next season and should become team leaders on and off the court. The Gophers will also add an impressive 2022 recruiting class, which includes three high 3-star Minnesota prospects, Pharrell Payne (Park Senior), Josh Ola-Joseph (Osseo) and Braeden Carrington (Park Center). Here’s how the 2022-23 Minnesota roster currently sets up.

  • Wing: Jamison Battle (Jr.)
  • Wing: Isaiah Ihnen (Jr.)
  • Wing: Parker Fox (Jr.)
  • Big: Treyton Thompson (So.)
  • Guard: Abdoulaye Thiam (So.)
  • PF: Pharrell Payne (Fr.)
  • PF: Josh Ola-Joseph (Fr.)
  • SG: Braeden Carrington (Fr.)

On paper, this isn’t a roster that will contend in the Big Ten, for many of the same reasons the Gophers have struggled in Ben Johnson’s first season. It lacks size, talent, experience and depth. And that’s why we’ll see them dive back into the deep end of the transfer portal this summer.

You know the talent is going to be available, given today’s age of college athletics. But can Johnson woo enough of that transfer portal talent back to Dinkytown? That will be the question and the deciding factor for the success of next year.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan