It’s been a tough week for Gophers basketball coaches past and present.
Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech team had No. 8-ranked Kansas beat with two seconds left Tuesday before Andrew Wiggins scored on a layup giving the Jayhawks a 64-63 victory in Lubbock, Texas.
And current Gophers coach Richard Pitino, whose team has played some great basketball, played its worst game of the season Wednesday in losing at home to Illinois, which had lost 10 of its previous 11 games and recorded only three Big Ten victories [two against Penn State and one against Indiana] before the Maroon and Gold fiasco.
“We just did some unthinkable things,” Pitino said after the 62-49 loss.
Well, the Gophers’ story has been that they win when junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu is leading the team on the floor and is also one of the leading scorers. And the Gophers don’t win when Mathieu is forced to sit, as he did against the Illini after he picked up his second foul at the 12-minute mark in the first half. The Gophers led 14-3 at the time.
So now it’s time to check on the future of the Gophers. They have four games left, including three with ranked opponents — at No. 24 Ohio State, home vs. No. 15 Iowa and at No. 20 Michigan — before finishing the regular season with a home game against Penn State.
The only chance the Gophers have of making the NCAA tournament is if they do well in the Big Ten tournament, knock off at least one of the highly ranked teams they have left on their schedule and beat Penn State.
One of the Gophers’ benefits going forward is they only have three seniors coming off the roster next year in starting guard Austin Hollins, sixth man Malik Smith and reserve guard Maverick Ahanmisi.
They have already filled those three open slots with recruits Josh Martin, a 6-8 power forward from Bothell (Wash.) High School; Nate Mason, a 6-1 point guard out of Arlington Country Day High School in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Carlos Morris, a 6-5 junior college shooting guard at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. The Gophers have another scholarships open after Wally Ellenson deciding to leave the team to focus on his track and field career.
Martin continues to be the standout for Bothell, who faced Roosevelt in the Class 4A, District 2 playoffs, late Thursday night, with the winner of that game advancing to a winner-to-regional, loser-out game. Martin scored a game-high 24 points in a 57-52 victory over Eastlake in the consolation bracket semifinals to keep Bothell’s season alive.
Mason’s Arlington Country Day squad is currently 23-3 overall and Mason had 29 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in a 99-34 victory over Life Christian on Tuesday. Mason is generally considered one of the top-40 point guards in the country by recruiting services such as Scout.com and ESPN.com.
Meanwhile, Morris was considered a Rivals Top-150 player when he came out of high school, and he had planned to attend South Carolina before going to junior college for two seasons. Morris is playing with teammates who have committed to Florida State and Connecticut. He is averaging 15.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
When Morris signed with the Gophers he told Rivals.com that, “I just felt like Minnesota was the best spot for me. Coach Pitino is young but very experienced and we are going to do some big things. When I was there on my visit, I liked everything. There was nothing to dislike about Minnesota.”
When it comes to the other two scholarships Pitino has available, he has been targeting a couple of big men who could really help. Anas Osama Mahmoud, a 7-1 Egyptian-born player from West Oaks Academy in Orlando, visited the Gophers this week. He is also considering offers from Arizona State, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina State and Texas A&M, among others.
Also in town this week on an official visit was Bakary Konate, a 6-11 center from Mali who also has offers from Louisville and Mississippi. Konate is playing at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan.
It’s apparent Pitino needs to add length with these last two scholarships available to go with the guards that he recruited in Mason and Morris if the Gophers are to contend next season.
• Former Gophers wide receiver Eric Decker spoke with SiriusXM radio Tuesday and said that while he wants to stay with the Broncos, he has other priorities to consider as well. “I would like to figure something out and stay [in Denver],” he said. “But at the same time, my priority is taking care of my family. Me and my wife are having a kid mid-March and it’s even more difficult because I want to have her be comfortable. Those are kind of the added stresses to this process.”