Hartman: Pitino making most of Gophers' mix of players

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2014 - 6:50 AM

He brought in key transfers and has coaxed surprising performances from several players on last season’s team.

When the Gophers hired Richard Pitino on April 4, 2013, there was some concern because it seemed like the Gophers search committee found no interest in the job from any of the top basketball coaches in the country. Pitino, 31, had only one year of head coaching experience, and there was some question if he was ready for the Minnesota job.

Well, there’s no question now that Pitino is proving to be the best hire possible with the success he is having with the Gophers this season, taking a team everyone thought was dead in the water and making them an NCAA tournament contender.

The Gophers are currently fourth in the Big Ten with their 4-3 record, after their 81-68 upset of No. 9 Wisconsin at Williams Arena on Wednesday, and when ESPN released its latest tournament bracket predictions Thursday, the Gophers were a No. 9 seed.

Minnesota lost starters Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Joe Coleman, who accounted for 41.7 percent of the Gophers’ scoring and 45.5 percent of their rebounding last season, and the big question was whether Pitino could find players to replace them. Many thought he would use players from the last class recruited by Tubby Smith, including redshirt freshman Charles Buggs or sophomore Wally Ellenson, but Buggs has played only 19 minutes this season and Ellenson has played only 62 minutes.

Instead, Pitino has found tremendous improvement in players such as Oto Osenieks, Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker, while mixing in recruits such as former Florida International standout Malik Smith, junior college transfer DeAndre Mathieu and Drake transfer Joey King.

Osenieks is averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds after averaging 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds last year. Eliason is at 6.5 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game after averaging 2.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game a year ago.

Walker was playing only 6.6 minutes and averaging 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game last season. Pitino told Walker he had to lose weight to play and Walker did, dropping 60 pounds. He is now averaging 13.4 minutes, 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds — including career bests with 18 points and nine rebounds Wednesday against the Badgers.

Mathieu, who originally walked on at Morehead State in Kentucky before spending one year playing junior college ball at Central Arizona College, has been perhaps the Gophers’ best all-around player. He’s averaging 11.6 points, a team-high 4.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Teams don’t win without a great point guard, and Mathieu reminds me of former Gophers star Ray Williams. Mathieu might be the best point guard the Gophers have had since then.

Smith is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game and the leading free-throw shooter at 88.6 percent. King has provided valuable minutes, averaging 6.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and shooting 44.1 percent from the field.

Vikings coaches’ plans

Jeff Davidson will definitely remain with the new Vikings staff as offensive line coach, and special teams coach Mike Priefer also is going to stay. It would be a surprise if wide receivers coach George Stewart wasn’t kept unless he gets offered a better position by another team.

Not expected to remain on staff are tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson, defensive backs coach Joe Woods and defensive line coach Brendan Daly.

Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams will join the Lions as defensive backfield coach under new Lions coach Jim Caldwell. Williams worked for Caldwell in the same job when both were at Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, the Eagles and Giants must think Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson have some talent. Musgrave has been hired as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach, and Johnson was named the Giants’ running backs coach.

Jottings

• University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, when asked about rumors that Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague was a finalist for the Virginia Tech AD job, made it clear he is convinced Teague is staying at Minnesota.

• Former Gophers all-around athlete Eric Decker was a two-time letterwinner in baseball at the U, but he instead chose to play football with the Broncos and helped Denver reach the Super Bowl with seven catches for 105 yards in the postseason.

• Local coaching ties with Rose Bowl winner Michigan State: Brad Salem, the son of former Gophers football coach Joe Salem, is the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator for the Spartans. Mike Tressel, who graduated from Como Park High School and is the son of former Hamline coach Dick Tressel, is Michigan State’s linebackers and special teams coach.

  • related content

  • Gophers show off their depth without injured Hollins

    Friday January 24, 2014

    A sprained left ankle will likely keep Andre Hollins out for Sunday’s game at Nebraska. But without him, the Gophers still managed to play their best all-around game of the...

  • Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino, left, looks on during the second...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close