Was anyone else besides me yelling “OH, FUCK THIS” loudly in the tailgate lots a few hours before our football season even started? If you were, you probably also got the real-time news update that Eric Curry had torn his knee up and would miss the entire season. This was a blow because this year has some nonzero #TITTY potential on the basketball side and because Curry was the only backup big dude who had proven that he was more than a warm body good for 5 illegal screens per game (sup, Bacardi). While I’m still really high on this year’s Gopher squad, we can ill afford more injury or off the field issues if we want to maximize potential. That said, if Gaston Diedhiou were to steal a moped and take the UMPD on a wild goose chase through Dinkytown, it wouldn’t destroy our season quite as much as if Nate Mason came down with another case of old man hip. Here, I attempt to rate this year’s Gopher squad in order of importance to team success (from least to most vital, because suspense!)
NR: Eric Curry (already out for the year L), Matz “MATZ” Stockman (transfer year), Jarvis Johnson (will not play – medical)
13 – Hunt Conroy: before attending our two exhibition games I thought this guy’s name was Conroy Hunt. Coach's kid (literally), probably knows the game well. Hopefully we see him often, because we are having a good year if he gets human victory cigar minutes on a consistent basis.
12 – Brady Rudrud: presumably would play before Hunt Conroy in a disaster scenario simply because he’s been in the program a year longer. Made a 3 against Concordia! Hopefully brings his A+ towel-waving game to the bench.
11 – Gaston Diedhiou: he may have to play meaningful minutes a time or two this year, since all our bigs ahead of him commit about 12 fouls per 40 minutes. Was not a complete disaster in the exhibition games. If we see him in several games where the outcome is still in doubt, we have problems. Please graduate and help our APR, Gaston.
10 – Jamir Harris: I am really high on Jamir and I think he’ll be a valuable contributor (next year for sure if not this year); that said, he is a freshman in a backcourt where we have several more highly touted options. Getting strong minutes and some 3s from him would be huge (and he could earn his way to more minutes via a few hot shooting nights), but we don’t necessarily need him this year in order to be successful.
9 – Michael Hurt: Someone needs to add another 3 point threat to this team; maybe it’s Michael? He’s not any higher than 9th because hopefully Coffey is taking 32+ minutes at the 3. May get more minutes if we play small ball and Coffey slides up to the 4 on occasion. Looked less like a deer in headlights and more like a competent piece in two exhibitions. I want him to have a good year
because he’s a good kid
to help the team because
it may help us land Matthew Hurt for
a lot of reasons.
8 – Davonte Fitzgerald: Wild Card, Bitches!! I had no clue where to put Davonte; I won’t be shocked if I look back after this year and say that he should have been 4 or 5 on the list, but we just have no idea what type of impact he will have. Valuable backup minutes at the 4 and a strong rebounding presence would be great signs in the nonconference.
7 – Bakary Konate: Shot up about 5 spots when Curry went down. As fouls 6-10 at the Center position, we’ll need to rely on Bakary for consistent minutes, solid D, and minimal turnovers via offensive foul. Bakary gets lots of hate (related: anyone know if Stickum is legal in NCAA basketball?), but he should be competent in the role of backup center. Hope and pray we don’t need him in a bigger role than that one for any notable stretch of this season.
6 – Isaiah Washington: Without a doubt the flashiest and most hyped addition to this largely veteran group. Could argue he’d be even higher if we didn’t have an all-B1G senior point guard holding down the fort already. I’m curious to see if Coach Pitino will continue to get him and Mason on the floor together for significant stretches of time – exhibition games showed lots of playmaking, but sometimes questionable defense (and no defensive length), from that backcourt grouping.
5 – Dupree McBrayer: We arrive at the (presumed) starters. Dupree is the least talked about starter, which says more about the 4 guys ahead of him than about him. He has the ability to win us a couple games with instant offense, and if he can maintain his outside shooting touch (42% from 3 last year) at a slightly higher volume he will be extremely valuable to keep teams from packing in against us on defense. In games where he's not an offensive focal point, we need him to stay engaged defensively and look for opportunities in transition.
4 – Jordan Murphy: This is where I remind everyone that this is a list based on importance to the team within the context of the rest of the roster, not based on pure skill or projected statistical output. Jordan Murphy being 4th on this list is an extremely exciting indicator for this year. In a lot of years in my lifetime, he’d be the Gophers’ #1 or #2 player. He has the potential to average a double-double this year and will be expected to do a lot of work cleaning up the glass on both sides of the floor this season. His touch around the basket looks greatly improved.
3 – Amir Coffey: Might be the best player on our team this season. He can pretty much do everything, from emergency PG to small-ball 4. Look for him to be more assertive when he needs to this season (see: UWGB game). I'd love to see his usage rate as about the second highest on the team, and to see a mix of scoring and facilitating that stays consistent throughout the year. Please, Coffey, give us a full four year college career before jumping to the National Boring Association.
2 – Nate Mason: Yes, I know how deep we are in the backcourt. Regardless of other roster talent, an all-Big Ten caliber floor general is extremely high in importance to this team: he had an enormous impact on last season’s incredible turnaround, and I still have images seared in my mind of guys like Blake Hoffarber and Maverick Ahanmisi bringing the ball across halfcourt and immediately getting stripped in Big Ten play during the Tubby years. (note: I loved both those guys. They were not point guards). Point guard play wins games in our conference. Period. We have arguably the best in the league, and we need him healthy and impactful all year to reach our potential.
1 – Reggie Lynch: Last year, our KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency was 22nd in the nation. The year before: 163rd. Did existing roster members improve (some substantially)? Of course, but Reggie Lynch was by far the biggest driver of that remarkable defensive turnaround. In addition, there is a huge gap in talent/presence/impact between Reggie and his replacements. His defensive impact and shot blocking abilities also give us numerous transition opportunities, and we have the personnel to use those to run teams out of the gym. Our halfcourt offense this year will likely be again good-not-great, so our hopes to compete for a Big Ten title and make a significant tournament run rest on Lynch to repeat his DPOY level performance of 2016-2017.