Why Richard Pitino is (Finally) Primed to Bring Success to Gophers

Minnesota’s head coach Richard Pitino reacts to a play in the first half against Illinois at the Big Ten Conference tournament on March 9, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

On April 3, 2013, Richard Pitino was hired to be the Minnesota Golden Gophers head basketball coach. Since then, he has gone 127-108 overall with one NCAA tournament win (vs. Louisville in 2019.)

It’s now 2020 and he certainly hasn’t lived up to the expectations that Gophers fans were thirsty for, when he arrived. It’s time for that change.

Now, you may be thinking, “Why would Pitino – who’s only won one NCAA tournament game in his seven years as head coach, had a losing Big Ten record in 2019-20, and can’t recruit in-state kids – suddenly be able bring success back to the U?”

Well, below are three reasons why:


Success in both the regular season and postseason

After missing the NCAA tournament in three straight seasons to begin his Gophers tenure, Pitino quickly turned it around. Here’s a list of some of those accomplishments: 

  • led the Gophers to the tournament two out of three years, including one win (Louisville)
  • appeared in two Big Ten Tournament semi-final games in three years
  • tied the program record for 24 wins in 2016-17
  • was Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016-17 (the program’s first since 1982 and second ever)

What these stats prove is that Pitino is both capable of leading the Gophers to the tournament and doing it semi-consistenly. “So what,” you might be thinking. “What else has he done?” 

Thanks for asking! That leads me right into my next point. 

Ability to develop and produce pros

Jordan Murphy. Amir Coffey. Daniel Oturu. One of these guys – Amir Coffey – is in the NBA, one – Jordan Murphy – is in the G-League and the other – Daniel Oturu – is well on his way to being drafted this year.

But, how did they get to this point. Let’s take a look:

Jordan Murphy:

Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, Murphy was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Timberwolves in 2019, after playing his entire collegiate career at the U. He now plays for the Iowa Wolves, Minnesota’s G-League affiliate team. Undoubtedly, his rebounding ability helped his chances to make the pros. Murphy averaged more than eight rebounds per game in all four of his seasons and retired first in BIG TEN history for rebounds with an astounding 1,305 total. He also averaged more than 11 points per game in all four of his seasons, including a career-best 16.8 in 2017-18.

Amir Coffey:

Hopkins High School’s own, Coffey was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Clippers in 2019. During his three years at Minnesota, Coffey never averaged less than 12 points per game, finishing his career with a phenomenal 1,255 points.. He also dished out more than 3 assists per game in all three years.

Daniel Oturu:

From Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Oturu was far-and-away the best player on the Gophers last season. Not only did Oturu average 20.1 points per game (a spike from 10.8 in 2018-19), but he also averaged a double-double with 11.3 rebounds per game. Those stats helped him earn All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten Defense awards in 2019-20. Oturu is projected as a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft according to multiple draft sites.

So why does developing talent and producing pros matter?

First of all, it helps recruiting immensely. When recruits see that the school has produced professional level talent, they would likely be more inclined to take a visit and even commit. Second of all, it improves the team. The better your team is, the better your chances are of winning in the Big Ten.

Ability to recruit in-state talent

I’d argue that this is the most important part of being a head coach. If you can’t recruit, you can’t win. The state of Minnesota is littered with high school talent (read more about that here). Even though Coach Pitino hasn’t been able to recruit in-state talent very well (as all Gophers fans know), he has shown the ability to do it. Below are examples of his ability to recruit both in-state talent and also transfers.

Example: 2018 class

This class consisted of entirely in-state talent; Jarvis Omersa (Orono), Gabe Kalscheur (DeLaSalle) and Daniel Oturu (CDH) all committed under Pitino. This class has turned out to be solid; Oturu is headed for the NBA, Kalscheur is regarded as one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, and Omersa is a spark plug off the bench.


Treyton Thompson

Although not at Minnesota yet, the 2021 prospect committed to Pitino back in November of 2019. After leaving Alexandria (MN) High School last August, Thompson currently attends national powerhouse La Lumiere (IN) High School and is a 4-star recruit, according to 247sports.com.

Ability to recruit transfers:

Marcus Carr

Does he really need an explanation? After leaving the University of Pittsburgh amidst a coaching change his freshman year, Carr became the Robin to Oturu’s Batman. He was arguably the clutchest player on the team last season (see below). Carr averaged 15.4 points and 6.4 assists per game in his first season with the Gophers. Not to mention he still has two years of eligibility remaining (provided he returns to school). 

Akeem Springs

After leaving UW-Milwaukee as a graduate transfer in 2016, Springs helped lead the Gophers to Pitino’s first NCAA tournament appearance. He averaged 9.5 points per game, while shooting 38% from the three. Unfortunately, Springs tore his meniscus the Friday of the Big Ten Tournament and missed the NCAA tournament game. 

2020 Transfer class:

Richard’s best transfer class could be yet to show. This offseason, he grabbed both Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson out of the Transfer Portal. Liam Robbins was one of the highest-rated transfers of the season. If he can get a waiver to play right away, he could be a force in Pitino’s offense immediately.

Ability to recruit international studs

This part of Pitino’s recruiting acumen is interesting. He might struggle to get some of the best in-state talent… but he’s been able to pull some pretty big strings from other countries.

His biggest get was 5-star German, Isaiah Ihnen, but he also reeled in Alihan Demir last year, via transfer (Turkish), and just got a commitment today from a younger Turkish baller, David Mutaf, who shoots 40%+ from 3.

Pitino has has the ability and tools to take the Gophers to the next level. He has won, developed and produced pros, and recruited well (for the most part). These are all pieces it takes to become a winning program….

Now, it’s just a matter of putting it all together. 

Feel free to follow me on twitter @carsonruen

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