Gophers freshman forward Isaiah Ihnen is expected to make his season debut Friday against Utah, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.

Pitino feels like Ihnen can give the team a boost with his length defensively. The 6-foot-9 Ihnen was the Gophers’ top recruit in the 2019 class. 

“He’ll get some minutes vs. Utah; see how he can handle it and go from there,” Pitino said Thursday. “We’re playing three guards. Obviously with [Amir Coffey] out there last year at 6-8 from a defensive side of it, there’s a couple times guys are shooting over us. Just having longer arms out there helps.”

Ihnen’s 7-4 wingspan could also give the Gophers some help in the frontcourt alongside center Daniel Oturu. The power forward position hasn’t been as productive as last season, so Pitino is also hoping Ihnen can provide depth behind seniors Alihan Demir and Michael Hurt.

“Those guys aren’t long, where Isaiah is,” Pitino said. “It really helps your defense.”

In Tuesday’s 64-56 loss at Butler, Ihnen dressed in uniform and was cleared to play, but Pitino said he didn’t want to throw the 19-year-old German native in for the first time against the Indiana school.

“He needs to be part of the rotation," Pitino said. "I just wasn’t real comfortable throwing him in one of the toughest road environments in college basketball."

So far, the Gophers haven't relied too much on their freshmen class, which includes guards Tre' Williams and Bryan Greenlee and center Sam Freeman. Williams leads the freshmen with 2.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12 minutes per game. 

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