Key Departures: Akeem Springs
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Nate Mason (Sr.)
SG: Dupree McBrayer (Jr.)
SF: Amir Coffey (So.)
SF: Jordan Murphy (Jr.)
C: Reggie Lynch (RS Sr.)
Key Reserve Players:
PF: Eric Curry (So.), PG: Isaiah Washington (Fr.), SF: Ahmad Gilbert (Jr.), C: Bakary Konate (Sr.), PF: Michael Hurt (So.), PF: Davonte Fitzgerald (RS Sr.), SG: Jamir Harris (Fr.)
The Gophers return their three double digit scorers from a season ago, and also return their entire starting lineup. Nate Mason is back for his senior year, after a sensational junior year. Mason averaged 15.2 points and five assists per game last year, and went on to be a First-team All-Big Ten member. He only trailed Bryant McIntosh and Cassius Winston in assists per game in the Big Ten. Mason has improved on his scoring and assists every single season, and has become one of the better point guards in college basketball. He is feisty on the defensive end as well, and in the steals department. With Minnesota getting more and more recognition as a basketball school, people will start to recognize his name. He failed to score in double figures only four times last year, which included the loss to Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA tournament. Mason only had five points, he had four turnovers, and shot just 2-10 from the field in 38 minutes of play, by far his worst game of the year. Mason will be the senior leader on this team, and will be a focal point in deciding how far the Gophers go this year. Mason is joined in the backcourt by Dupree McBrayer, who gives the Gophers a 3-point threat. McBrayer shot 41.6 percent from downtown last year, and he forms a really good backcourt with Mason. McBrayer took a huge leap last year in his scoring and shooting percentages from his freshman season.
Amir Coffey is the name that comes to mind when I think of the buildup of the Minnesota basketball program. He is the highest recruited player that Richard Pitino has brought in, and he is a hometown kid. Coffey is as versatile a player as they come, and does a little bit of everything on the court. He can be a point-forward, he has ball-handling skills like a guard, and he can step out and shoot it. I think his 3-point shooting will only get better and better. He has a floater game and can pass it too. The 6’8″ lefty is the face of this program.
Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch also return to the starting lineup. These two guys led the team last year in rebounding. Murphy is only 6’6″-6’7″, but really knows how to use his body on the glass. Lynch brings legitimate size and paint presence to this starting lineup. They both will be called again for rebounding this year. Eric Curry, Bakary Konate, Michael Hurt, and Davonte Fitzgerald all bring frontcourt depth off the bench. Curry averaged 20 minutes per game as a freshman last year, got good experience, and averaged about five points and five boards per game. His role will continue to increase. Konate saw his minutes drop last season, but he adds rim protection and length. Hurt only played six minutes per game last year, but the Minnesota native adds stretch four ability off the bench. Fitzgerald, the transfer from Texas A&M, was out last season after a torn left ACL. If he can get fully healthy, Fitzgerald brings another dimension off the bench. He can play both forward spots, and can guard multiple positions. Although still a raw player, he brings versatility on both ends of the floor at 6’8″.
Isaiah Washington comes in as the 16th ranked point guard in the 2017 class. He will learn rom Nate Mason this year, and will eventually take the keys to run the program. The savvy point guard from New York brings really good ball-handling, and an ability to finish at the hoop with both hands. He is going to be really good for Minnesota, and I think he has star potential. Ahmad Gilbert also saw his playing time decrease last year. With the emergence of Coffey, he will come in and play reserve minutes when needed. Jamir Harris is a freshman shooting guard, who can really stroke it. He will play some guard minutes off the bench alongside Washington. It would be nice to see Jarvis Johnson suit up for the Gophers, but unfortunately it may never happen. Prayers up for him.
It is quite impressive what Richard Pitino has done. He has built a legitimate basketball school, that will compete in the Big Ten again this year, and for years to come. He is bringing in solid recruits, which has definitely helped the process. After valuable experiences and lessons learned last season for his players, don’t be surprised if this year’s squad goes farther in March. I have the Gophers sitting at number 18 for my preseason rankings.