The State of the Gophers
“How the team performs over the next two years is important, but the roster outlook – including the program’s standing with recruits – will be highly relevant in evaluating Pitino’s performance two years from now.”
The selection of Richard Pitino
Pitino is a good coach and can become a great one. Excluding long-established D-I coaches, there are few other options that we’d put on the same level as Richard Pitino who were possibilities for Minnesota when hiring leader of the men’s basketball program. It was an intelligent hire. Nothing is promised, but we like Pitino as much or more than other options.
Recruits won’t fall into his lap
Being the son of Rick Pitino has its advantages, but few if any kids will come to Richard Pitino just because of his last name. He’ll need to work hard to earn everything he gets. We believe he can eventually be highly successful in the area of recruiting, but it won’t be because of his last name.
Stance on facilities
Pitino made quick and intelligent changes to how current facilities are being used by the program. He hasn’t dwelled on what Minnesota doesn’t have and that’s a refreshing change from Tubby Smith. That said, behind closed doors we hope he is aggressively pushing for a new basketball practice facility as an athletic department priority.
The team performed at a level equal to LNH’s expectation. Our projections had Minnesota doing better than most other people thought and thus the public perception is that the season was a “surprise.” While we can’t agree with those who say last year was a surprise, it’s valid to note that Pitino and staff did bring three players in the spring/summer of 2013 who made meaningful contributions to the team: DeAndre Mathieu, Malik Smith and Joey King. Meshing a lot of new faces together with a number of veterans from the old regime isn’t often a simple task. Pitino’s first year was good, but not remarkable.
Minnesota is a veteran team at the top, but without much experience on the bench. The starting lineup may include two senior guards (Mathieu & Hollins), a junior wing (Morris), a junior forward (King) and a fifth year senior (Eliason). Mo Walker, another fifth year senior, serves as a complementary platoon center with Eliason (Walker the stronger offensive player and Eliason getting the nod on defense).
From there the questions arise. With the experience at the top of the lineup and parity in the upper half+ of the Big Ten, the Gophers could have great success this season. Losing Austin Hollins will be difficult to overcome, but 2014-15 provides a special opportunity for Richard Pitino early on in his career.
We would consider a wide range of finishes – from 4th place to 10th – unremarkable. Finishing fourth or fifth would certainly be a good year for Minnesota, but with the landscape of the Big Ten this season it wouldn’t be a surprise. A top three or bottom four finish would get our attention.
Late Night Hoops will release its Big Ten predictions prior to tip off tomorrow.
This is where it gets tough. Minnesota will lose a lot of experience after the 2014-15 season, but there is still plenty of time for things to come together. The addition of Minnesota-native Zach Lofton gave the team an experienced and highly talented scorer, but he has already been dismissed from the basketball program. Joey King and Carlos Morris will be seniors. The Gophers will need progression over the next year from the youth on its current roster and reasonably solid contribution from the kids that will join the program next summer. Bakary Konate hasn’t progressed as well as some projected a few years ago, but the upside for him and a guy like Josh Martin is there. Little is needed from them this season, but they could be key pieces a year from now. Nate Mason has a good opportunity to earn an edge heading into 2015-16 with strong play as a true freshman this season.
In two years…
Heading into season four we’ll have more data that can be used to judge Pitino; however, unless the team has been terrible and the recruiting poor, we’ll want to give him more time to get settled. Recruiting for 2015 has been solid and there are some key targets in 2016 and 2017. How the team performs over the next two years is important, but the roster outlook – including the program’s standing with recruits – will be highly relevant in evaluating Pitino’s performance two years from now. Overall, we see good things coming for the U’s basketball program.