Richard Pitino Confident About Transfer Waiver Requests and Upcoming Gophers Season
In a recent interview with Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press, Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino was optimistic about next season’s team.
“I thought our program got a lot better this spring,” Pitino said. “I’m really really excited whenever we do get to resume just to be able to get with these guys because I think we have some versatility, some talent and some depth.”
“I thought our program got a lot better this spring,” Pitino said.Andy Greder, Pioneer Press
That optimism is validated. The Gophers basketball team has added half-a-dozen players for the 2020-21 season thus far. This list includes recruits Jamal Mashburn Jr., Martice Mitchell, and David Mutaf, along with transfers Liam Robbins (Drake), Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan), and Minnesota native Both Gach (Utah).
Jamal Mashburn Jr.
Mashburn Jr., son of former NBA All-Star Jamal Mashburn, is a 4-star combo guard out of Brewster Academy (NH). The freshman will bring solid shot-making ability off the bench for the Golden Gophers next season.
Jamal Mashburn Jr can Shoot Shoot ?? pic.twitter.com/2mDGQ5IrCZ— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 17, 2019
Mitchell, a high 3-star guard from Bloom (IL) High School, turned down the likes of Maryland, Oregon, and others in route to landing in Minnesota. With a nice stroke from deep, he will be a solid stretch-4 for Pitino.
From the country of Turkey, Mutaf is a high-level shooter who can also handle the ball if needed. While the Minnesota Gophers have increased their shooting numbers from deep over the last few seasons, Mutaf should help that trend continue.
Liam Robbins – Transfer (Waiver Needed)
Robbins, the nephew of Gopher’s Associate Head Coach Ed Conroy, averaged 14.1 points and 7.1 last season at Drake, which earned him All-MVC Second-Team honors. He should provide some rim protection in Daniel Oturu’s absence, as he average nearly 3 per game last season.
Went through tape on Minnesota’s transfer commit Liam Robbins. As impressive as any transfer prospect in the country. Impressed with his touch, hands and post work. Effective over either shoulder. Late bloomer that didn’t have a scholarship offer coming out of high school. pic.twitter.com/0r2AnRLqTc— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) April 9, 2020
Brandon Johnson – Transfer
A four-year starter at Western Michigan, Johnson averaged 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season. The forward should be able to step right into the starting lineup.
Western Michigan grad transfer Brandon Johnson on what he brings to @GopherMBB: “Regardless if I’m scoring or if my shot is falling one night, I can still impact the game enough in order for my team to get a win.” @StribSports @BHerbo_trey5 pic.twitter.com/uxcqw2BYjd— Marcus R. Fuller (@Marcus_R_Fuller) April 9, 2020
Both Gach – Transfer (Waiver Needed)
Gach, an Austin, Minnesota native, averaged 10.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for Utah last season. Announcing his return to his home state recently, Minnesota Gophers fans are excited to have some homegrown talent on the court. Gach will also likely start next season.
Utah guard Both Gach will reportedly transfer if he decides to remove his name from the @NBADraft. The 6’6 MN native averaged 10.7PPG/3.6RPG in 19-20 & showcased the ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor. @NXT1S @utahathletics pic.twitter.com/ipCmgEbQAL— Nxt1sColin (@Nxt1sColinBrown) May 15, 2020
Robbins and Gach still need waivers to be able to play next season, but both have good cases. As mentioned before, Robbins is the nephew of Ed Conroy and is also cousins with walk-on Hunter Conroy. He also grew up in Davenport, Iowa, only a 5 ½ hour drive from the Twin Cities.
Gach makes just as much — if not more — sense, to get a waiver. His hometown, the aforementioned Austin, Minnesota, is a little less than two hours from the Twin Cities.
Pitino feels very confident that both players will be granted those waivers by the NCAA, who has a history of screwing over the Gophers.
“…We feel really, really confident with both. Both situations are different, with Liam’s and Both’s. Both wanted to come back home and be with his family during a pandemic. I think that makes a lot of sense for the NCAA to see that. One of the benefits, I guess, is for a kid from Minnesota, we are the only school close to home. … It makes complete sense for the NCAA to give both of those kids waivers.” – Richard PitinoAndy Greder, Pioneer Press
Building on Last Season
This recruiting class comes at a great time, too. Last season, the Gophers basketball team finished with a 15-17 overall record, 8-12 in non-conference play. Which is… not the best. However, Pitino believes they were a better team than their record shows and could’ve even made the NCAA tournament.
“I still to this day believe that if we won two more games in the conference tournament, we would have gone to our third NCAA tournament in four years — which hasn’t happened here.” He added, “… you look at all those numbers, with strength of schedule and our KenPom stuff. We are not far off by any means.” – Richard PitinoAndy Greder, Pioneer Press
With COVID-19 beginning it’s sweep across the nation, the Gophers were unable to play those two games Pitino thought would’ve vaulted them into the tournament. After destroying Northwestern 74-57 to kick off the Big Ten Tournament, the Gophers were set to play Iowa the next day. If they won that game, they would’ve played Illinois. So, Pitino wasn’t necessarily wrong about the implications of those two games.
In any case, the Minnesota Gophers Men’s Basketball team are set to improve upon last season this coming winter. They won’t have to play the gauntlet that was last season’s non-conference schedule, nor will they have to play Alihan Demir 25 minutes a game (sorry, Alihan).
Richard Pitino will have all kinds of lineups options, as long as Gach and Robbins get their waivers. He can go small with a lineup of Marcus Carr, Jamal Mashburn, Gabe Kalscheur, Isaiah Ihnen, and Brandon Johnson. Or he can go big with a potentially potent lineup of Marcus Carr, Gabe Kalscheur, Both Gach, Isiah Ihnen and Liam Robbins.
Now that would be a Warriors-Lite lineup, with every player capable of shooting the three.
A Few Returning Options
In addition to those players, Pitino will also have veterans Tre Williams, Jarvis Omersa, and Eric Curry to come off the bench. Richard will be able to do just about anything, in terms of mixing and matching, which is a testament to his improved recruiting.
Overall, though, Richard Pitino and his staff did a great job of getting quality players this offseason. It certainly makes me optimistic for what’s to come in the 2020-21 season, which will hopefully be a COVID-19-less one.
“I thought our program got a lot better this spring,” Pitino said. “I’m really really excited whenever we do get to resume just to be able to get with these guys because I think we have some versatility, some talent and some depth.”Andy Greder, Pioneer Press
Carson Ruen | Minnesota Sports Fan