#80 Minnesota Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Minnesota Golden Gophers
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #80
Conference Rank: #9 Big Ten
Minnesota suffered through an atrocious 2015-2016 campaign. Following a win over Chicago State on December 16th, the Golden Gophers did not win again until late February when they knocked off Maryland and Rutgers in a two game home stand. And that would be the end of the wins for Coach Richard Pitino and company. This season simply has to be better since it cannot get much worse than that. But Nate Mason is a very good point guard who dished out 4.5 assists per game last season. He also led the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game. If Mason can be a little more selective or consistent with his outside shooting, he will emerge as one of the best scorers in the Big Ten.
2015-16 Record: 8-23, 2-16
2015-16 Postseason: none
Coach: Richard Pitino
Coach Record: 51-51 at Minnesota, 69-65 overall
Who’s Out:
Minnesota will be better this season, but that does not mean they do not have some major holes to fill. Their third, fourth, fifth and sixth leading scorers from last year are all gone. Joey King, a 6-8 forward, averaged 11.6 points and 3.8 rebounds during his senior season. King was asked to do more scoring last year and he was up for the job, both inside and outside of the arc. Carlos Morris saw his scoring decrease to 9.8 points per game as a senior, but he was still a very dangerous scorer. Kevin Dorsey left the program after his freshman campaign. On the year he averaged 6.8 points and the Gophers could have used his ball handling and defensive skills. Charles Buggs started 21 games last season and averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds. At times he was a solid shooter, but he did a lot of the little things for Minnesota.
Who’s In:
Coach Pitino is bringing in quite a few quality players who will make an impact right away, including transfers Reggie Lynch and Davonte Fitzgerald. Lynch joins the Golden Gophers from Illinois State where he had two very productive seasons. As a sophomore in 2014-2015, the big 6-9, 260 pound center averaged 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. He has the physical tools to compete in the Big Ten and he can hold down the center spot for the Golden Gophers for the next two years. Fitzgerald will also see some time in the frontcourt as well after spending two relatively unproductive seasons at Texas A&M. The frontcourt also adds incoming freshmen Michael Hurt and Eric Curry. Brady Rudrud, Jarvis Johnson and Amir Coffey will look to make an impact on the perimeter. Of the trio, Coffey is likely the only one to do so. He is the top recruit among the incoming freshmen and the big 6-8 guard will give Minnesota a potentially dangerous scorer on the wing.
Who to Watch:
Jordan Murphy will be the inside force on this team. As a freshman the 6-6, 230 pound forward averaged 11.6 points and 8.0 rebounds. Following his surprising freshman campaign, the expectations are quickly rising for Murphy. With more consistent outside shooting, he will be a matchup nightmare for the opposition. But Minnesota needs more from players other than Mason and Murphy and Coach Pitino does have some options this year. Dupree McBrayer struggled with his shot as a freshman, but he can be a capable shooter. Ahmad Gilbert started a handful of games as a freshman and he was supposed to be the incoming freshman last season who could make a big impact, but it never happened. With a year of learning the ropes, Gilbert could be in for a big sophomore season. Walk-on Stephon Sharp was thrown into the fire for about a dozen minutes per game last season. He could be thrown in again as one of the backup point guards. Bakary Konate had a very good sophomore season, averaging 4.8 points and 5.1 rebounds. He will likely lose his starting job to Lynch, but Konate gained valuable experience starting last season and will provide great frontcourt depth.
Final Projection:
On paper, Minnesota should have a lot more options this season. There is potential quality depth across the board and that will certainly help the Golden Gophers win a few close games this year instead of losing them like they did in 2015-2016. One potential issue is their outside shooting. Somebody at the shooting guard position has to step up and knock down shots. That was a huge problem last year and there is not an obvious solution. King was by far the best outside shooter on the team and Morris and Buggs were decent too. Somebody like McBrayer or Coffey must consistently knock down shots or this team will be way too easy to defend. The Golden Gophers should see a pretty big increase in win totals and reaching a postseason tournament of some sort would be a great stepping stone after the forgettable 2015-2016 season.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Nate Mason, Junior, Guard, 13.8 points per game
Dupree McBrayer, Sophomore, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Amir Coffey, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Jordan Murphy, Sophomore, Forward, 11.6 points per game
Reggie Lynch, Junior, Center, DNP last season
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 68.0 (279th in nation, 11th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 74.0 (232, 12)
Field-Goal Percentage: 40.5 (316, 14)
Field-Goal Defense: 45.1 (265, 12)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 6.2 (259, 13)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 31.0 (310, 14)
Free-Throw Percentage: 70.7 (141, 9)
Rebound Margin: -3.3 (284, 12)
Assists Per Game: 12.2 (245, 9)
Turnovers Per Game: 11.4 (65, 7)
Madness 2016 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#52 Amir Coffey
#160 Eric Curry