Gophers' Ben Johnson balancing transfer portal, NIT prep for Indiana State

Ben Johnson is right in the middle of a very delicate balance as the University of Minnesota men’s basketball coach.

The Gophers beat Butler to advance to the second round of the NIT against Indiana State on Sunday afternoon. He’s prepping for that, and the NCAA transfer portal opened on Monday. For teams not in the NIT, NCAA Tournament or other form of postseason play, their players are free to enter the portal and explore their next college option.

Even though the Gophers are still playing, Johnson can’t ignore it and fall behind.

"Every minute that we’re not focused on Indiana State, we’re focused on the portal," Johnson said Friday. "You’re trying to see who’s in the portal, the whole thing. It’s been good because my staff has been on it with everything, it’s what you’ve got to do. You can’t ignore either."

He has no choice but to monitor it, but Johnson also doesn’t know what his roster for next year will look like. Will Ramberg, Jackson Purcell, Jack Wilson and Parker Fox all celebrated Senior Day. Fox can come back for one more year if he wants. Johnson’s next task will be talking to players after the season ends, who’s coming back and who might leave?

There are no current transfer limits in the NCAA. Hundreds of players are already in the portal, and that list grows daily. With two freshmen coming to Minnesota next season, answers will come quick as Johnson needs to know how many openings he has.

"The hardest part about it is the longer you play, the longer you don’t know what your roster is going to look like. You’re in the portal, but you’re kind of in the portal guessing to a certain extent unless you know you have open scholarships already. That’s the hardest part. That’s what we’re juggling is it’s active and guys are going in, you have to monitor it and look at certain positions and certain guys. But you have no idea what you need to attack because your roster is still intact and you’re still playing. There’s no book that tells you how to do that," Johnson said. "At the same time, you’re still trying to win games and continue your season. The longer you play, the greater it is for your program and what you’re trying to do. At the same time, the longer you play you do kind of feel like you’re up against it. You’ve just got to deal with it as it comes."

All that said, the Gophers face an Indiana State squad Sunday that’s a No. 1 seed in the NIT. Many argue the Sycamores should’ve been an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota advanced with a 73-72 win at Butler, thanks to late-game execution in the second half.

Fox got a late steal, and Elijah Hawkins made two free throws late to give Minnesota the lead. Braeden Carrington forced a contested shot that fell off to seal the win. Johnson said those are moments that can’t be replicated in practice.

To perform in a win-or-go-home scenario is a teacher itself.

"This is the reason why you do a tournament like this. You can’t simulate those end-of-game, game pressure situations. You can dial it up in practice, but you can’t with the crowd that they had and the personnel they had on the floor," Johnson said. "That’s why this stuff is so valuable. Good teams find ways to win, and we found a way to win."