Since the end of his team’s historically bad season, coach Richard Pitino has promised the next Gophers men’s basketball campaign would bring a different look.
But as the Gophers head into their summer break — players leave campus next week — Pitino himself is still figuring out exactly what that look will be when the team takes the court this fall.
“There are a bunch of different things I’m looking at,” Pitino said Tuesday. “Everyone, in my mind, plays in the summer without the burden of the season, without the burden of minutes. Everybody is good right now. How are they going to be in November? That’s something I can’t predict.”
Indeed, this group might present more unknowns than any in Pitino’s previous three Gophers seasons, partly due to the team’s 8-23 performance in 2015-16 and partly because of an infusion of potential impact players. No starting role appears to be set, there are logjams at some positions, and fitting everyone into the ideal rotation seems like a calculus equation.
Additionally, Reggie Lynch, the transfer once pegged to start 2016-17 at center, remains suspended from team activities since being arrested on suspicion of rape in May.
The Hennepin County district attorney declined to charge Lynch, but university investigators have continued to probe the case. At the start of that second phase, county officials indicated that the additional work generally lasts for no longer than 90 days, a deadline that hits Aug. 8. In the meantime, Lynch has been allowed to join the team only for the occasional speakers Pitino brings in “to help educate from a personal standpoint.”
“We’re just being patient with it,” Pitino said. “It’s the summer time right now, so we do have time.”
Pitino said he has not decided how Lynch’s standing with the team will change if he is charged or cleared. While the process plays out, though, he’s not wasting any time tinkering with options.
Behind Lynch on the depth chart are juniors Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou. The former missed more than a month of summer workouts due to a quadriceps injury, and the latter played only 5.2 minutes a game last season.
Pitino has a couple of what he believes could be attractive options in smaller lineups. Jordan Murphy played at center some a year ago, although he looked less effective in that role. Pitino said he is “intrigued” by some lineups that involve him at that position now.
Eric Curry, a 6-9 freshman, has post potential as well. He is included in what Pitino called one of his favorite lineups so far: junior Nate Mason, sophomore Dupree McBrayer and freshman Amir Coffey at guards, Murphy at power forward and Curry under the basket.
“He’s a tremendous passer,” Pitino said of Curry. “A great runner, a great rebounder. He’s got [all-Big Ten] ability down the road.”
But Pitino also wants to find room for transfer Davonte Fitzgerald, who the coach has discovered fits in more naturally at power forward. And freshman Michael Hurt, graduate transfer Akeem Springs and sophomore Ahmad Gilbert also need to squeeze in between the two guard positions and small forward.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “As a coach, it’s exciting. I think there is going to be good competition. There are going to be guys making each other better.”