Gophers MBB Expecting Transfers In, Not Out

PHOTO: CRAIG LASSIG - ASSOCIATED PRESS

By the time the dust settled on Ben Johnson’s hiring at the University of Minnesota last offseason, the Gophers men’s basketball team didn’t have a roster big enough for 1v1 practices. Every single player who had played under Richard Pitino in 2020-21 — outside of Isaiah Ihnen, who would sit out all season with an injury — jumped into the transfer portal and left for greener pastures.

Johnson needed to find five starters and a bench. But without any head coaching reputation or film to show prospective portal targets his plans, the climb to building a competitive Big Ten roster was a steep and exhausting one.

Eventually, Ben was able to convince Payton Willis to come back for one last run in Dinkytown. Jamison Battle returned home from George Washington University, too. Those two — surrounded by a patched-together group of overachieving smaller-school graduate transfers and Eric Curry — mustered up just four Big Ten wins and finished last in the conference. An expected result, given the circumstances.

Sticking around

But Ben Johnson told the Star Tribune that he expects the transfer portal to be much more friendly this offseason. In fact, he was confident enough to say he’s anticipating ZERO transfers out of his program this time around. Additions only.

Instead of worrying about who is leaving, the Gophers expect everyone back who can return — and they’re focused on adding talent with transfers and freshmen for next season.

“It’s a lot easier when you have a chunk of guys on the roster versus having to fill an entire team,” Johnson said Thursday. “The other good part is you know what you have, too. And so you know what you need to add, which helps when it comes to the portal.”

Johnson said he might have one of the only Big Ten teams that has a full roster of players excited about returning and not looking into transferring.

“It’s definitely a better feeling, a more reassuring feeling,” Johnson said. “Now it’s what we can add to make sure this team is as good as it can be. Being aggressive, getting a few breaks in the portal and seeing where we can take it.”

Star Tribune

Big if true

If Ben Johnson is proven right, the Gophers should have a few spots on their 2022-23 roster adequately filled. Jamison Battle (Jr), Isaiah Ihnen (Jr) and Parker Fox (Jr) are all legitimate starting wing players in the Big Ten. Treyton Thompson (So) and Abdoulaye Thiam (So) are promising, young, depth pieces too.

Johnson’s first high school recruiting class has some promise and could help out. But they shouldn’t be relied upon, entering the season. Braeden Carrington, Pharrell Payne and Josh Ola-Joseph are all 3-star prospects who don’t rank in the 247Sports top-100 nationally.

Success during the 2022-23 season will depend on whether or not Ben Johnson can pull a top point guard and big man out of the transfer portal in the next few months. He has four scholarships to fill, instead of ten, like this time last year. That should help. But it certainly doesn’t guarantee success.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan