Throughout much of last season, Richard Pitino’s once-signature defensive press appeared to be an afterthought.
In many games, it disappeared altogether or was used only in momentary spurts, with wavering success rates.
Next season, fans might see even less of it.
This week, coach Richard Pitino said one the areas he is pondering is the defense and what it could – and should – look like moving forward.
“We may not be as scrappy and full-court pressure as we were the first two years,” the coach said. “We may be a little different defensively. I’m trying to figure it all out right now.”
In Pitino’s first season, 2013-14, he had speedster Deandre Mathieu to lead the press and Austin Hollins, a scrappy and fundamental defender. The following year, Mathieu still led the show while Nate Mason and Andre Hollins chipped in. Even last year, the Gophers had Kevin Dorsey, one of the quickest guards that has come through Minneapolis in recent years. The press, at some points, made sense.
Now, it appears Pitino has chosen size – they’ll have four guard/wing types who are 6-6 or taller and just one scholarship player shorter than 6-3 – over lateral quickness and what was originally one of the cornerstone pieces of his system.
The Gophers should have significantly more talent than the last two years, but the overall speed might decrease. Therefore we might see more of the (gasp!) dreaded zone and man-to-man defense if some of the newbies can prove trustworthy.
But shaking up the defense shouldn’t come as a shock or a disappointment for fans that saw last season’s defense end up second to last in the league in defensive efficiency and opponent’s two-point field goal percentage. As much as anything, a shoddy, porous defense contributed heavily to the Gophers’ 23 losses.
“I’m thinking about what I want to do from a defensive standpoint,” Pitino said. “This year’s team looks different. We have big guards, they’re not as laterally quick, so it may not be the smart thing to do to pressure.
“I think this is the time to work on all those things and make the decisions in October.”