Minnesota coach Richard Pitino stopped short of committing fully to the NIT Season Tip-off -- in which the team is currently scheduled to compete -- in a press conference on Tuesday, responding "I hope not" when asked whether there was any scenario in which the program would bow out.
The annual November tournament typically includes 16 teams, but was only able to secure eight this season, which could significantly change the format.
I wrote more about that for tomorrow's paper, here, along with some new tidbits about the Gophers season opener against Papa Pitino and Louisville in Puerto Rico.
A few other notes:
*International freshmen Bakary Konate and Gaston Diediou are still not on campus yet. Pitino reiterated that the NCAA has cleared the pair, and the team isn't concerned. He expects them to both be in Minneapolis by the start of fall practices.
*Redshirt sophomore Charles Buggs will likely not be playing to contact until the team returns for fall practices in September, Pitino said. Buggs had a minor knee surgery in April to clear out eroding cartilage. He has been cleared for non-contact activities.
*JUCO transfer Carlos Morris has put on the most beneficial weight of any player, Pitino said, with a grand total of 17 pounds since arriving on campus in May. The team wanted him to add bulk and strength quickly. "Thanks to Shabazz Napier [the former Connecticut player whose comments about going to bed hungry helped to spur new NCAA rules regarding team meals], he's eating like 20 times a day," Pitino said. "We just keep feeding him." DeAndre Mathieu, meanwhile, has added 13 pounds. Pitino said and Joey King, pound-for-pound, are the team's strongest players right now.
*Pitino on DeAndre Mathieu's recent fatherhood: "Whenever I see him, I say 'Boy, you're lucky because his baby's not here, his baby is in Kentucky. So I'm like fresh off of no sleep and he's well rested. We joke about it. He's excited about it. He's a mature kid to begin with. That was a great experience for him, I know he's very excited about it."
*Pitino likely told the truth but didn't make many Gophers fans in the process when he named rival Wisconsin the best team in the league in the upcoming season. The Badgers are pretty stacked, returning all but one player from a squad that advanced to the Final Four last spring. "Wisconsin was obviously phenomenal last year and they're only going to get better," Pitino said. "They were playing their best basketball towards the end. They have everybody back but one guys so I would think they've got to be the favorite going into the season."