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Lynch cleared for contact, could play in Gophers exhibition game

Reggie Lynch isn't being limited in practice any longer, which is a big step toward the junior center finally making his Gophers debut. 

"Yesterday, he did 15 minutes of contact," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday at Gophers media day. "He was really good. It's now (being) patient, (getting) him ready. He's so eager to get back on the court. It's let’s not rush it. Let’s be patient. The biggest thing is let’s get you ready for the first game. Whatever (trainer) Ben Felz and the doctors tell us to do we're going to ease into it as much as we can."

The Gophers scrimmage against DePaul at home Saturday. But Pitino hopes Lynch can play for the first time in front of fans in the exhibition game Nov. 3 against Bemidji State.

"I want him to be 100 percent," Pitino said. "That's my biggest thing. That's more important than anything else, because he's going to have jitters. Not only has he not played in a year, but he came here to play for his home state. That means a lot to him. So he'll have those jitters. That's why I like those exhibition games to get that out of the way." 

Lynch called the meniscus tear a “small injury.” He’s been ahead of schedule in recovery since having surgery a month ago.

“I’m already practicing, so I’m not worried about it,” he said. “No one on the team is worried, either. They’re just like “Reggie got injured, so he can skip the hard parts of practice.’ So basically that’s all about it to me. Obviously, it’s very important to me and I don’t want to skip these practices.”  

Being able to participate more in practice this week, Lynch had to learn the plays and get used to the speed of the game again.

“The rest of this week, I’ll be able to do more of the type of stuff everyone else is doing,” he said. “So I’ll be back in the flow soon.”

-- Lynch was Akeem Springs’ host in April when the Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate transfer made an official visit to the Gophers, so he didn’t believe Monday's controversial tweet meant anything about Springs' commitment to the team.

“Don’t read into that,” Lynch said. “He’s all about winning, as am I, as is everyone. No need for him to address the team. We know what he’s about.” 

-- Strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown wants Lynch's playing weight to be less than 260 pounds this year. Lynch had hoped to play at 265, but he’s at 258 right now. He'll likely lose more weight to start the season.

-- Freshman Eric Curry (6-9, 235) gained more than 20 pounds since he was a senior at Southwest Christian Academy in Arkansas. Sophomore Dupree McBrayer (6-5, 190) put on 15 pounds from last year. Freshman Amir Coffey (6-8, 195) gained nearly 10 pounds over the summer. Freshman Michael Hurt (6-7, 200) actually lost 10 pounds after arriving on campus. He says he still feels strong enough to play some power forward, if the team needs. Hurt has practiced more in the post since Davonte Fitzgerald suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“What we worked on is cutting my weight down and kind of fixing my diet,” Hurt said. “Focusing on a lot of stuff to build a lot of muscle. That’s one thing I definitely got from the summer. Hopefully building my muscle will definitely help get my weight up as well.”

Pitino has starting lineup in mind after two Gophers scrimmages

It was hard for Richard Pitino to evaluate Saturday's scrimmage with his team only playing for 14 minutes in front of fans at Williams Arena.

But the Gophers have been practicing for nearly a month and had two scrimmages. 

Pitino has an idea about what his starting lineup would be if Minnesota had to play a game right now. 

"If I had to play a game (Monday) and we're not, my guess would be I'd go Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, Amir (Coffey), Jordan Murphy and probably Bakary Konate," Pitino said Sunday on the radio. "That would be the lineup. Again, I think when Reggie (Lynch) gets back we can pretty much plan on him being that starting center."

The Gophers have a secret scrimmage against DePaul on Saturday, so that starting lineup could get a chance to play together before the Nov. 3 exhibition game against Bemidji State. The starting center spot appears to be the only potential change before the Nov. 11 season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Lynch is expected to be cleared for full contact in practice by the end of this week. That means the Gophers' projected starting lineup going into the season is Mason, McBrayer, Coffey, Murphy and Lynch. The two new starters are Coffey and Lynch, who is recovering from meniscus surgery last month.

"He just hasn't played in a while," Pitino said Sunday about Lynch. "He had to sit out all summer. He did have (shoulder) surgery at the end of last (season). We just have to get him back healthy. He'll be a major part of what we do."

Mason, a 6-foot-2 junior, has been the most consistent player in the two scrimmages this fall. He had eight points and four assists in just 14 minutes Saturday. Pitino challenged him to prove he's one of the top point guards in the Big Ten -- and Mason is definitely motivated to do that.

McBrayer (6-5 sophomore) and Coffey (6-8 freshman) bring a lot of size, length and skill to a three-guard look with Mason. Some fans might be surprised Pitino didn't mention graduate transfer Akeem Springs as the likely starter with Coffey. But Springs is still in an adjustment period after missing summer practices taking classes to graduate from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“We've got to get him consistently shooting the ball,” Pitino said. “He plays really hard. He defends. He's got a Big Ten body. He's got leadership. The thing about Akeem is he didn't come until August. So we've got to get him to be patient and not try to rush too much and skip steps. I think he'll get there eventually. He played in some big games. He was a really good player for a good team.”

The Gophers' low-post presence should be much improved from last season with Murphy and a healthy Lynch. But where will the three-point shooting come from with the starting group?

"A concern of mine right now is shooting," Pitino said. "I think that's all of guards. If it's Nate, Dupree and Amir playing they've got to hit that outside shot. We're continuing to work with them."

Projected Gophers starting lineup:

G – Nate Mason

G – Dupree McBrayer

G – Amir Coffey

F – Jordan Murphy

C – Bakary Konate/Reggie Lynch (when healthy)

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