Richard Pitino’s 2020-21 Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team is an enigma. Even after two big time victories over top-30 teams, it’s hard to know where they go from here.
It won’t be long before we know a lot more because the most difficult stretch of their Big Ten schedule is only getting started. But… waiting for real-time results sucks and what the am I here for if not to predict the future for our readers?
Speaking of predicting futures, I’ve been pumping Pitino’s Transfer U (2020-21) for months. This is a roster that has talent oozing from the sides like an overstuffed PB&J sandwich.
So now that we’ve seen this Gopher squad in both its best (vs Iowa) and worst (@ Illinois) light, I think it’s time to re-evaluate the expectations for this roster and just what it will take to make another run at the NCAA Tournament.
Same old Marcus Carr
If we’re going to talk about what is right about this roster, the conversation can’t start without Marcus Carr.
Carr has picked up right where he left off last season. He ranks near the top in just about every conference scoring category and assist category.
He’s the clear leader on this team and the Gophers will need him to put them on their back throughout the season. He’s up for it, though.
|Marcus Carr||Stat||B1G Rank|
|Off Win Share||1.6||2nd|
On a nightly basis, the Minnesota Gophers will go as Marcus Carr goes. He can win games by himself because he’s that type of player and, because he is a point guard, the ball is always in his hands. At the same time, if he doesn’t have it on any given night… his team probably won’t either.
Luckily, there’s no sign of Marcus slowing down anytime soon and he seems determined to dance in March and get drafted in April. He knows better than anyone, that leading a Gopher run in the former will rocket his stock in the ladder.
Transfer U (especially big men)
Richard Pitino’s experiment with Minnesota Transfer Portal U has been a budding success in 2020-21. The Gophers went out and found 3 of their 5 starters in the transfer portal and all of them have contributed in major ways.
The latest came on Friday night when Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan grad-transfer) went ballistic from beyond the arc, knocking down 8/9 from 3-pt land and single-handedly downing the Iowa Hawkeyes in OT.
Drake transfer Liam Robbins leads the Big Ten in blocks per game and hit the OT 3-pointer that iced the Hawkeyes.
Utah transfer, Both Gach gives Marcus Carr a scoring threat on the wing that he hasn’t had since arriving on campus, even if his start in maroon and gold has been slower than expected.
Avoid Early Disaster
This part of “the good” has been underrated. This is a Minnesota Gophers basketball team that had only one COVID summer to get acquainted with each other. Carr and Kalscheur are the only starters who have played together, prior to this season, and their most important bench player is a freshman, Jamal Mashburn Jr.
Still, the Gophers have started this 8-1 with quality wins over Saint Louis and Iowa. Nobody would have foreseen those victories when this same Minnesota team was struggling to defeat UND and Loyola Marymount a couple of weeks ago, or when they were getting beaten by 30 @ Illinois to start Big Ten play.
The Gophers have 6-straight games coming up on their schedule vs top-25 ranked opponents. If they can win even 2 of them, they’d finish this ridiculous 7-game stretch with a 3-4 record and major schedule relief on the horizon.
|12/28 – 1/16||(6) Top-25 Teams|
|3/3||@ Penn State|
There really isn’t a cakewalk game on the Big Ten schedule for any team this season because the conference is so stacked. Still, three top-25 teams in 12 games looks a lot easier than seven ranked teams in seven games.
Luckily, others have helped pick up Gabe Kalscheur’s offensive slack and Richard Pitino continues to give him big minutes. But fuck, Gabe is going to have to hit shots eventually, if he is going to help the Gophers make a run at the postseason.
Kalscheur is shooting under 30% right now from the field and under 20% from beyond the 3-pt line. That hasn’t stopped him from launching them, though. Gabe currently leads the Big Ten in 3-pt attempts…
Either start hitting them or stop shooting. You can’t do both. We’re a quarter of the way through this season. When does this move from a “slump” to Gabe Kalscheur’s new “normal”?
Inconsistent wing play
Ok, we’ve talked enough about #22’s struggles. Everyone who plays wing for the Minnesota Gophers needs to be better. Both Gach has played well enough, as mentioned above, but he’s yet to really put his stamp on a big game like we’ve seen from Robbins and Johnson, his fellow 2020-21 transfers.
Isaiah Ihnen arrived here from Germany, just before his freshman 2019 season got underway. He’s continued to develop and all of the physical tools are there for him to look like a poor-man’s Kevin Durant.
The kid is 7-ft tall and feels more comfortable shooting 3’s off the catch or dribble, than he does going to the rim. Still, he has to understand the size advantage he has at the college level. He has a full foot on some of his defenders. Get a post game. Until then, Ihnen will just be a streaky shooter with a lot of upside.
Sophomore, Tre Williams, was showing a lot of promise early in the season but his minutes have been cut as Big Ten play has been fired up. I’d like to see him get more time on the floor if Gabe can’t turn things around offensively.
Extending our post presence out to the 3-pt line will not win Big Ten games all season. The wing play needs to improve if the Gophers are going to keep winning games.
Yes, winning is sustainable for the Gophers and I only expect them to get better as the year goes on. They should continue gel as a team, both on and off the court, as they get to know each other better.
The wing shooting really can’t get any worse, so if we are beating Iowa right now, how well can the Gophers play when that area improves. Honestly, we have more talent there than anywhere, so I expect improvement sooner rather than later.
I’d be shocked if the Minnesota Gophers MBB team isn’t dancing in March and I’d be even more surprised if they aren’t top-25 on Monday.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan