It’s going to take some time for us to get a full picture of how quickly and adequately the team has picked up coach Richard Pitino’s new offensive system.
Can the Gophers turn perceived strengths – running and shooting, which are the pillars of a run-and-gun style – into actual strengths? Can they have enough balance to execute in the half court and under the boards as well as in transition? Can this system work immediately with this group of players?
Those are all questions that won’t be answered, at least in full, more a while.
Our first glimpses – against opponents that aren’t teammates – however, begin later this week.
Monday’s media day featured excitement across the board, both from players, who are getting “sick” of playing against each other and Pitino, who says his squad is in tip-top shape and eager to improve as the Gophers barrel toward the exhibition opener against Cardinal Stritch on Friday.
Pitino hasn’t named a starting rotation yet – and may tinker long past Friday, saying that the first exhibition’s opening five might not be indicative of what he does the rest of the non-conference schedule, and the season.
“I may try to do something different just because we have an opportunity to kind of dabble with that a little bit,” the coach said. “It changes every week. Guys may have a good practice, somebody may not have a good practice. I think it’s probably not beneficial for our basketball team if I say this is the starting five because certain guys may get discouraged and they want to work their way into the starting lineup. So it changes week by week, opponent by opponent as well.”
But as far as where the team is as a whole at this point is encouraging, Pitino said.
“I love the new energy the coaching staff has brought here,” Andre Hollins said. “That just fits perfectly with our new style of play. Because you have to have energy to do it. We press all the time, we’re running up and down the floor. And that is going to make us difficult to play again, because we practice that way every day. I love this style. It’s a different philosophy; I had a hard time grasping it at first. But right now I’m liking it a lot.”
Florida International transfer Malik Smith, the only player who has experienced Pitino’s system live said that the Gophers are picking up the new style much quicker than his FIU bunch did a year ago, noting that traps – perfecting them and knowing when to execute them – are still posing the biggest challenge.
“We didn’t have the amount of talent that we have here,” Smith said. “Around this time last year at FIU, we were still putting things, putting new things in. We pretty much have all of our offense in right now and everybody’s picking it up just fine.”
Other quick notes from today:
- All said and done, Mo Walker has lost 60 pounds. The physical transformation is striking. The big man said he often gets mistaken for redshirt freshman Charles Buggs at a distance now.
- Buggs, on the other hand, has gained a total of about 20. He and Walker have been on campus since May, working out together, albeit doing very different things.
- Walk-on Jasen Baranowski is officially on the Gophers roster. Said Pitino of the guard: “We really threw him into the fire, just said get in there and kind of saw what he could do. He’s been playing well, but then he hurt his shoulder, so he hasn’t been going as much. He’s a great kid, good addition to the program, understands what this is all about, loves playing the game, so he’ll help us.”
- The most improved player of the offseason? That award goes to walk-on Kendall Shell. “By far,” Pitino said. “When I took the job, he was light years away from anything. He was bad. I tell him all the time, he was not a great player. And he’s lost 25-30 pounds. Everyone talks about Mo, but Kendall’s in probably the best shape of anyone on the team. He comes to work every day.”