According to the bracketologists, the Gophers men’s basketball team remains in the projected NCAA tournament field, but just barely. ESPN has the Gophers as a No. 11 seed this week; CBS has them as a No. 9.
The Gophers face two crucial games with No. 7 Michigan at home Thursday before traveling to Rutgers on Saturday. They will need signature wins if they’re going to make the tournament.
But one of the biggest story lines for the Gophers is how the program is doing recruiting Minnesota players.
Coach Richard Pitino did a good job recruiting Gabe Kalscheur, Daniel Oturu and Jarvis Omersa. Those three freshman have contributed to the Gophers’ 17-9 record overall (7-8 Big Ten).
Kalscheur, a 6-4 guard from DeLaSalle, is playing 29.7 minutes per game and averaging 10.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Oturu, a 6-10 center from Cretin-Derham Hall, is averaging 22.9 minutes, 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Omersa, a 6-6 forward from Orono, is averaging only 7.8 minutes per game, but he has played more in the Gophers’ past three games after not playing in six of the 10 games before that.
Except for junior guard Amir Coffey (Hopkins) and the three freshman, however, the rest of the contributing players are from other states.
Senior guard Dupree McBrayer and sophomore guard Isaiah Washington are from New York, senior forward Jordan Murphy is from Texas and redshirt sophomore forward Eric Curry is from Tennessee. Murphy has been the team’s most productive player, ranking 13th in the Big Ten in points per game (15.0) and leading the league in rebounding (11.9).
While Pitino grabbed those three local recruits, he did miss out on the state’s highest-ranked player in the Class of 2018 in Apple Valley guard Tre Jones, who ended up at Duke.
As for Minnesota’s Class of 2019, the Gophers remain an unlikely choice for the No. 1 prospect, Rochester John Marshall 6-9 forward Matthew Hurt. Kansas is the front-runner in the quest for Hurt, who took his final official visit to Lawrence, Kan., a few weeks ago. Hurt played for Jayhawks coach Bill Self with the Team USA Under-18 squad. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski also was in Rochester last week to watch Hurt play.
Other top Minnesota players who have already signed elsewhere include Hopkins center Zeke Nnaji (Arizona), DeLaSalle guard Tyrell Terry (Stanford), Lakeville North forward Tyler Wahl (Wisconsin) and Breck forward David Roddy (Colorado State). The Gophers offered scholarships to all four of those players.
Need to stop Badgers
Pitino also must find a way to stop losing in-state recruits to Wisconsin. The Badgers, perhaps surprisingly, have maintained their recruiting success in Minnesota after the 2015 retirement of Bo Ryan, who was replaced by longtime assistant Greg Gard.
In recent years, Wisconsin has grabbed prospects such as Lakeville North’s Nate Reuvers, Maple Grove’s Brad Davison, Grand Rapids’ Alex Illikainen, Henry Sibley’s Mike Bruesewitz, Princeton’s Jared Berggren, Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jordan Taylor, Orono’s Jon Leuer and Minneapolis North’s Kammron Taylor.
Reuvers and Davison were instrumental in the Badgers beating the Gophers 56-51 at Williams Arena on Feb. 6. Davison scored 10 points, despite shooting 2-for-12 from the field. Reuvers scored nine points, with eight rebounds and seven blocks.
Class of 2020 coming
Minnesota’s Class of 2020 has five players ranked in the top 200 in the country, according to 247 Sports.
Pitino has to find a way to sign some of these players, such as Minnehaha Academy guard Jalen Suggs (No. 10), Prior Lake forward Dawson Garcia (No. 30), Park Center center Dain Dainja (No. 50), East Ridge forward Ben Carlson (No. 70) and Hopkins guard Kerwin Walton (No. 157).
Pitino and his coaching staff have offers out to all those players, and there’s no doubt that reaching the NCAA tournament, with the excitement and prestige that comes with it, would be a big help in the recruiting process.
There are rumors the Vikings might consider cutting defensive end Everson Griffen to free up salary cap space. Griffen is owed $11.7 million next season, and the Vikings have only $5.8 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com.
One reason Griffen could be expendable is because of the play of Stephen Weatherly, a seventh-round draft pick in 2016.
Weatherly played in all 16 games and started six. He contributed three sacks, 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, and is scheduled to make $720,000 in 2019 before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
Weatherly recently was asked what the Vikings defense has to do to improve after finishing fourth in total defense (309.7 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (21.3 points per game) in 2018.
“We have to establish our identity early, that signature [coach Mike Zimmer] attitude, and play up to his standard of defense,” Weatherly said. “It’s just about all of us on the front seven mixing well with the back four and playing together as one and knowing what we’re trying to accomplish time and time again.
“It took us a while last season to find our identity, but once we found it, we got back to our brand of defense. It’s about doing that but not waiting until Week 4 or 5 but getting it started Week 1.”
While he didn’t discuss Griffen’s contract situation, Weatherly was asked about two Vikings free agents, linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
“[With] Sheldon, our friendship grew in this first year and I learned a lot from him,” Weatherly said. “ I adapted a lot of the way I play, using my hands and my long arms like he has. I want them to come back because I like them a lot and they’re good people. I like to consider us friends.”
He said his offseason workouts are geared toward playing more in 2019.
“I feel like the next thing for me is just getting my body to the point where if I am called on to play more than I did last year, to be ready to handle that workload,” he said. “Other than that, the usual bigger, stronger, faster, and really dial in and take that next step.”