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Gophers defense could get overhaul from Pitino

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.”

Pitino explains why walk-on Haugh got scholarship over Sharp

Earlier this month, the Gophers announced that walk-on Darin Haugh had been given a scholarship for the upcoming season, a move that came to the surprise of some who had watched fellow walk-on Stephon Sharp make notable gains this spring.

On Tuesday, coach Richard Pitino said the decision was primarily about seniority; Haugh, a 5-10 guard from Prior Lake, is a senior, Sharp is a sophomore.

“I told Steph ‘This has nothing to do with you,’” Pitino said. “’Darin has been in the program longer than you have. He’s done everything right.’

“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions but I think Darin has earned it …Darin has been great on the court, off the court, he’s a great leader. And I’m happy he got that opportunity.”

Haugh joined the Gophers before the 2014-15 season, sitting out that year due to NCAA rules after transferring from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. Last year, Haugh appeared in six games, scoring two points.

The Gophers were able to give him a scholarship after redshirt senior Charles Buggs graduated and transferred to USC for his final season of eligibility.

Sharp, a 6-3 guard from Bloomington, scored just four points in 11 appearances through Feb. 4, but was inserted into the starting lineup down the stretch after a dismissal and three suspensions handicapped the backcourt. In those four remaining games, Sharp averaged 13.5 points in 36.5 minutes per game.

Pitino said Sharp was “disappointed” following the team’s decision, but the coach told the guard to look at it another way.

“I told him, big picture, this should excite him,” Pitino said. “Because if you do the right thing, we’ll take care of you. We’ve shown we’ll do that and we’ll continue to do that if we can for our guys.”