MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota men’s basketball season doesn’t officially start until Nov. 5, but the Gophers opened their home schedule with an exhibition against Southwest Minnesota State at Williams Arena Monday night.
The basketball wasn’t pretty at times, but the Gophers came away with a 73-48 victory.
Coach Richard Pitino admitted after the game his team still needs to find an identity. That can happen when you lose three starters from last year’s team that advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer graduated, and Amir Coffey left school to pursue his NBA dream.
It’s also perfectly normal for a team to be seeking its identity before its first real game. That said, here are takeaways from the Gophers’ exhibition and their recent scrimmage at Iowa State:
Life for Daniel Oturu after Jordan Murphy
Daniel Oturu had quite the freshman advantage last year, playing alongside senior star Jordan Murphy, who left the program as the school’s all-time leading rebounder and in the top-five in career scoring. With Murphy gone, Oturu is now the centerpiece of a thin Gophers’ frontcourt with Eric Curry out for the year again, and freshman Isaiah Ihnen batting a wrist injury.
Oturu had a double-double Monday night with 12 points and 16 rebounds in just 26 minutes. He shot 5-of-12 from the field and will have to clean up several misses around the basket. He was also just 2-of-6 from the free-throw line. Oturu also had 13 points and 13 rebounds in a recent closed scrimmage at Iowa State. Oturu is poised for a big sophomore season, if he can stay healthy and out of foul trouble.
The Payton Willis/Marcus Carr backcourt
With Amir Coffey gone, the Gophers need to replace their leading scorer and one of their primary ball-handlers from last season. Richard Pitino was prepared for his departure, and it appears replacing him will be duty shared between a pair of transfers, Marcus Carr and Payton Willis. The two combined for 26 points, 12 assists and just two turnovers while shooting 9-of-20 from the field.
They combined for 29 points in the scrimmage at Iowa State. They can both shoot, and they’re interchangeable at the guard spots. After transferring from Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt, respectively, Carr and Willis are ready for the stage with the Gophers.
Tre Williams a silky smooth freshman
With Sam Freeman and Isaiah Ihnen both projects in the frontcourt, and Ihnen battling a wrist injury, Tre Williams has the biggest chance to stand out among Minnesota’s freshmen. He’s every bit of 6-5, scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds in Monday’s win. He played 23 minutes, didn’t commit a turnover and played under control. It’s still very early and it will take time, but Williams will have a chance to be a contributor off the bench.
Who steps up with Curry out?
The Gophers were dealt another injury blow during early practices when Eric Curry went down with a torn ACL in his right knee. It’s his second season-ending knee injury in three years. He was looking good and felt good in practice prior to the injury, and was poised to help out Oturu in the post. So who takes his spot after the injury? It’ll have to be some combination of Michael Hurt, Jarvis Omersa and grad transfer Alihan Demir.
Omersa scored three points and grabbed three rebounds against Southwest Minnesota State on Monday. His only made shot of the game was an emphatic dunk in transition. He had three points and five rebounds in the scrimmage at Iowa State. Hurt scored three points and grabbed four rebounds Monday, and Demir had three points and two rebounds. The Gophers will have to get more out of their grad transfer from Drexel. While it’s early and the games don’t matter yet, Demir is a combined 2-of-10 shooting and 0-fof-2 from the perimeter. He also missed an open lay-up Monday off a perfect pass from Oturu.
Can Gabe Kalscheur take the next step?
Gabe Kalscheur went from largely under-recruited to being one of the best shooters in the Big Ten last year as a freshman. Kalscheur shot 41 percent from the perimeter on 188 attempts, and was the Gophers’ only consistent three-point shooting threat. He’s got help this year, with Willis, Carr, Williams, Demir and even Bryan Greenlee that can make shots.
He’ll need the help as opponents will key their scouting reports this year on limiting his attempts. It means he’ll have to find other ways to score, along with often defending the opponent’s best player. Richard Pitino said at media day Kalscheur has the opportunity to make money playing basketball at the NBA level. He’s the hardest worker they have in practice, and takes the most game-style reps. Kalscheur is set for a big sophomore year.
Get ready for more 3s
The Gophers were not much of a perimeter shooting team last year. They were near the bottom of the Big Ten in both 3-pointers made and attempted. They attempted at least 20 shots from the perimeter in just nine of 36 games last season, or 25 percent.
Get ready for that to change this year. Minnesota went 8-of-28 from three-point range in the scrimmage at Iowa State. Monday night, the Gophers finished 8-of-21. Pitino said at media day he wants four shooters on the floor at all times during a game as much as humanly possible. That should be doable with Willis, Carr, Williams, Greenlee and Demir all capable of shooting from the perimeter. Even Oturu make take a shot or two from the perimeter.
It starts for real next Tuesday as the Gophers host Cleveland State at Williams Arena. After that, they face Oklahoma in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then travel to Butler and Utah. They’ll find out in a hurry what type of team they are, and it might not be pretty early on.