A big thanks to my colleague Michael Rand who again stepped in during a moment of traveling duress and scooped up these quotable nuggets of gold. Cooking up gluten-free goodness certainly has its bribing qualities. Appreciate it, Randball.
Richard Pitino said freshman guard Kevin Dorsey practiced “60 or 70” percent on Monday and that the coaching staff will try him again on Tuesday to determine whether he is able to return from a heel injury to be available for Wednesday’s Big Ten opener at Ohio State (6 p.m. CT., BTN, 1500-a.m.)
Dorsey, who bruised his left heel coming down from a driving layup in the win over Chicago State, “re-aggravated” the injury in Monday’s practice, Pitino said without elaborating.
“We’re going to try him again,” Pitino said in a news conference on Tuesday. “See how he feels.”
The Gophers, facing a Buckeyes team that downed No. 10 Kentucky on Dec. 19, are eager to get Dorsey – who was averaging 7.9 points and 2.9 rebounds heading into the Chicago State game – as much for his playing time (20.5 minutes a game) as his production. Losing Dorsey not only creates a hole within Pitino’s press defense and driving offense, it also shrinks the rotation by one. With a pair of transfers and inefficiency from center Gaston Diedhiou and Ahmad Gilbert limiting Pitino’s legitimate options to seven, it’s a big change.
Freshman Jordan Murphy, for example, played three positions – center, power forward and small forward, which he hadn’t clocked any time at this season -- and 37 minutes in a loss to Milwaukee last Wednesday, a workload he called “kind of manageable” but admitted he wasn’t used to it.
“We were forced into that situation a little bit because of Kevin’s injury, there’s kind of a trickle-down with those things,” Pitino said. “And [starting center] Bakary [Konate] was not playing well from an offensive standpoint and we needed to try to score some points.
“…When you’re only playing seven guys, guys have got to get more minutes. But I don’t want to do that.”
Pitino, who noted he hadn’t decided who would start on Wednesday yet with the coaches “trying different lineups” in practice, said the lack of depth was noticeable last week when starting point guard Nate Mason needed a break and couldn’t get it. Dorsey normally is the first off the bench in that situation.
“When JR [Ahmad Gilbert] is not quite ready yet and then you’ve got Dupree [McBrayer] playing multiple positions,” he said. “So that’s difficult. Sometimes guys just need to come out and take a deep breath.
“We wanted to have five ball handling guards – we don’t have that now. Then you’re kind of forced to play guys when they’re tired, when they’re mentally fatigued as well. It’s physical but also mentally given them a break and regroup on the bench is also very valuable.”
Pitino reflected briefly on the pre-league slate on Tuesday, touching on what he believes the team has learned through what he called a tough schedule. Minnesota heads into the Big Ten 6-6 with five losses, including three at home in guarantee games.
“It’s an interesting balance,” he said. “We have been tested, but we haven’t won those games. I guess we beat Clemson, that was a good win. But you want to learn from winning.
“If there’s one thing after 12 games, it’s that we’ve got to do what we do well …Stop doing things you’re not good at and focus on the things you’re good at and that can bring great value to the team. You can try to simulate it all you want, but the heat of the moment of responding when things aren’t going well, I think we’ll be more prepared for after 12 games than maybe in years’ past.
Asked how the results compared with his preseason expectations, Pitino said: “When you have a young as a team as we have, there are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be times where you’re like ‘What are we doing fellas.’ I was hopeful of more wins, but that’s part of the deal. We need to be at a point where we’re protecting our home court, but with a young team, these things happen.”
Minnesota and Ohio State are two of the younger teams in the Big Ten this year with 17 freshmen and sophomores between them. Otherwise, the Gophers and Buckeyes are much different teams, most notably defensively. Minnesota lands at 214th nationally in defensive efficiency according to analyst Ken Pomeroy while Ohio State is 28th. But Pitino talked about the challenges of rebuilding on Tuesday while offering up some optimism despite the ugly start to the season.
“[Coach Thad Matta has] got young guys [too],” he said. “Young guys do young things. You look at their assist-to-turnover ratio [-.85-to-1], it’s in the negative…. I know that frustrates coach Matta greatly. You always go through growing pains. It’s something I know is tough to swallow. When you get a new coach you want you want Year One and you want Year Two to be better and Year Three to be better. But I always thought with the situation we inherited, Year Three was going to get really young…I’ve always thought about this team, I like what we can become. Thad is probably saying the same thing about his guys. They’ve got some really good young talent. Sometimes they look great and sometimes they don’t and I think that’s what happens with young guys.