Big Ten Previews: Minnesota Golden Gophers


Apr 3, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins (1) drives to the basket against the Southern Methodist Mustangs during the first half of the 2014 NIT Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Result: 25-13, 8-10 in Big Ten

Postseason: NIT Championship (63-61 win against SMU)

Head Coaching Prospectus: Richard Pitino (25-13 at Minnesota, won NIT Championship in only year at school)

The last name Pitino carries a ton of weight in the basketball world. Despite not having a ton of success in the NBA, Rick Pitino is one of the most successfuled and respected coaches in all of college basketball. Clearly, Pitino has passed down his gift.

Richard Pitino has had a great deal of success in a short amount of time in the collegiate ranks.

In 2012, Pitino left his associate head coaching position at Louisville, and took the head coaching job at Florida International where he would replace former Detroit Piston great Isiah Thomas. He was inheritting a team that only returned six players from the previous year, and not all of those players were on a scholarship. Upon arriving in Miami, Pitino developed a system based on high-pressure defense, and it ended up working wonders. The Golden Panthers were eighth in the nation in steals with 9.34 swipes per game. Pitino led FIU to a school record 11 conference wins, and also reached the Sun Belt Tournament title game in his only year at the school.

After just one year at FIU, Pitino took his talents to the Big Ten, and replaced Tubby Smith at Minnesota. While the Golden Gophers finished seventh in Pitino’s first year at the helm, they did win the NIT Championship, and won a school record 25 wins during the 2013-14 season.

Despite being young and not having a ton of head coaching experience under his belt, Pitino has proved that he has the chops to coach in the Big Ten. He also has an abundance of returning talent coupled with some solid newcomers. Minnesota could definitely finish around the same place in the Big Ten standings, and could even be higher, depending on how some of the younger teams in the conference do.

As mentioned above, Pitino is a coach that takes pride in what his teams can do on the defensive end. Minnesota finished 45th last season with 7.42 steals-per-game. Expect the Golden Gophers to be a team that gets after opposing teams, and gets out in transition.

Minnesota has only been past the first round of the NCAA Tournament once since 1999 (five trips). The Golden Gophers did upset sixth-seeded UCLA in 2013 under Smith. Pitino definitely has this program on the rise, and has a tremendous amount of talent to work with. It’s also paying dividends on the recruiting trail with Pitino landing the services of Paul VI point guard and former Maryland target Kevin Dorsey.

The question is whether or not the Golden Gophers can break through into the upper echolen of the Big Ten. That remains to be seen.

Key Returning Players

G Andre Hollins (Sr.)

G DeAndre Mathieu (Sr.)

G Carlos Morris (Jr.)

F Joey King (Jr.)

While the Golden Gophers did lose their second leading scorer in Austin Hollins, there is still a ton of talent coming back.

Minnesota boasts a trio of extremely talented guards in Andre Hollins, DeAndre Mathieu, and Carlos Morris. It’s a group that also returns two of their top three scorers, including their leading scorer in Hollins. Hollins was instrumental in Minnesota’s run to an NIT Championship. The Memphis native has the ability to score from all over the floor, including an absolutely lethal jump shot. Hollins was named the MVP against SMU as he netted 14 points, and grabbed four rebounds in the win.

One of Minnesota’s underrated pieces is guard Carlos Morris. The Chipola College transfer played on a junior college team with former Maryland commit Sam Cassell Jr., and is a remarkable talent. Much like Hollins, Morris has the ability to score from all over the floor. The Golden Gophers newest guard can really shoot from beyond the arc, and should be instant offense for Minnesota this season.

When you think of the Golden Gophers, you don’t exactly think that they’re the class of the Big Ten. However, this is a very talented roster that has a good amount of depth. If the cards fall the right way for Minnesota, they could be one of the better teams in the conference this season.

Frontcourt Outlook

When you think of the Golden Gophers, it’s definitely the talented backcourt that comes to mind. However, Minnesota does have a solid amount of depth in the low post. Freshmen Bakary Konate and Josh Martin and senior Elliott Eliason should all play considerable minutes in the paint. In Thursday’s exhibition against Minnesota-Duluth, Eliason and Martin got the start, and both turned in solid efforts. Konate did total five fouls in only 13 minutes, so he is definitely a work in progress. Martin was very impressive as he posted a stat line of eight points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. Martin is a guy that is very athletic for a forward. The Washington native is a spectacular finisher at the rim, and also has a little range of range as well.

Eliason is the one big that could potentially cause matchup problems for many teams. The 6’11 center grabbed a whopping 16 rebounds in Thursday’s exhibition, and will be the shot-blocking force in the paint for the Golden Gophers. Eliason may not be the most athletic player, but he’s a force that can alter any shot. With Konate being very inexperienced, Eliason likely will be the starting center for Minnesota. While Eliason isn’t the most offensively gifted, the Golden Gophers have more than enough offense on the perimeter to make up for it.

Backcourt Outlook

This is where the magic happens. Point guard Andre Hollins has two solid seasons under his belt, and is the straw that stirs the drink for Minnesota. The Memphis native does a little bit of everything. Hollins posted a stat line of 13.6 points-per-game, 3.5 rebounds-per-game, and 2.4 assists-per-game. He can penetrate and get to the rim along with being an outside scoring threat (shot nearly 35 percent from three last season). This is simply a guy that is a very aggressive player that will take his shot if it’s there.

Guard Carlos Morris is the wild card in this group. While he did end up at Chipola College, Morris had offers from schools like Cincinnati, Miami, and Providence in high school. This kid has a ton of potential, and is already turning heads. Morris scored a game-high 23 points (10-of-17 shooting) and also grabbed three rebounds and dished out three assists in Thursday’s contest. Morris solidified his spot as the team’s starting wing, and will likely be one of the top producers for the Golden Gophers. While Morris may not be considered a consistent three-point threat, he is still capable of scoring at will. While at Chipola, Morris shot 43.8 percent from the floor, and averaged 14.7 points-per-game to go along with 5.2 rebounds-per-game.

Last but certainly not least is guard Deandre Mathieu. Mathieu is an absolutely fearless guard that is able to get to the rim with ease. He is also a player that has great court vision. The Tennessee native recorded 4.2 assists-per-game last season, and is definitely the best passer on the team. Matheiu is also a strong shooter from beyond the arc (48.9 percent last year), and hit at least one three-pointer in 15 games during the 2013-14 season.

If all three of these guards produce like many expect, Minnesota is going to be very dangerous on the perimeter. All three can shoot the lights out, and also have no problem putting it on the deck and attacking the basket. This is definitely the strength of the Golden Gophers’ roster.

Predicted Finish

Teams like Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State lost a considerable amount of talent from last season. Wisconsin definitely looks to be the class of the Big Ten, and maybe even the country with the amount of returning stars that they have. However, with Hollins, Morris, and Mathieu in the fold for the Golden Gophers, Pitino has a very athletic group that could be incredibly dangerous on the perimeter. I think that Minnesota could surprise a lot of people, and finish with double digit conference wins and be in the Big Ten’s top six after it’s all said and done.