Richard Pitino made a public appearance on Thursday as the Gophers kicked off a 16-city non-metro "Chalk Talk" tour in Redwood Falls.
Call us crazy, but in the little over a month since Pitino took over, we already have a better sense for the style his team will play, his sense of accountability and his personal work ethic than we ever really did with his predecessor, Tubby Smith.
We're not here to bash Smith, who certainly left this program in better shape than he found it, even if his legacy here didn't match his previous resume. But at one point late in his tenure, Smith and several players were asked to define the identity of the team. Smith circled around the answer. Players gave different answers. It got to the heart of what went wrong with the Gophers much of the time when things did go wrong: They did not know who they were. They'd run and succeed. They'd run and turn the ball over. They'd crumble against a zone. They'd try to get tough inside. Some of it is matchups. Some of it is identity.
We think we know this about Pitino already: His teams will run. They will press. They will shoot three-pointers. If they are supposed to make threes and don't make them, that's a problem (see Pitino's comment on the link about Oto Osenieks, a great one-liner but also very true). And if players aren't in shape now, they will be soon. Or they will sit. (See his comments on Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker, players who need to bulk up and slim down, respectively. Smith has talked for years about Walker losing weight. Pitino, with the help of new strength coach Shaun Brown, looks to be demanding it. And Mo seems, for now, to be on board).
Pitino and his staff are scouring the ends of the earth (or at least the country) looking for players that make sense immediately while maintaining flexibility. Joe Coleman's departure, while unfortunate because he would have contributed on the court, pushes Minnesota up to five available scholarships in 2014. That number will stay the same even if they are able to bring in Rakeem Buckles, a power forward from FIU who could get a waiver to play right away this season, his last year of eligibility.
The Gophers will play small and shoot a lot of threes next year, both by necessity and design. They will have the energy to press, both by necessity and design.
We don't know how it will all play out, but at least we know how Pitino is trying to make it play out.