Gophers Basketball Logo

Blog

Gophers Basketball

Get the latest inside information on Gophers basketball

Postgame: Pitino tells Gophers they have to earn NCAA tourney berth

Richard Pitino’s voice was pretty hoarse after screaming at his players all night during the Gophers’ closer than expected 68-67 win against Drake.

Pitino chewed his players out at halftime more than he had all season, but he toned it down and went bigger picture with his postgame speech.

It had a lot to do with sticking together as a team and making sure they take ownership of playing well enough to make the NCAA tournament. Not to let observers tell the Gophers they’re good enough to make it before actually proving they are.

“Only 19 percent of college basketball teams go to the NCAA tournament,” Pitino said Monday about what he told his players. “It’s hard to do that. Really, really hard to do that. Just because people tell us we’re going to go, it does not mean why we’re going to go. It was a great wake-up call for us tonight.”

It’s mid-December and definitely too early to make realistic NCAA tourney projections. But the Gophers were a No. 6 seed in ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s last bracket Dec. 7. That was before the 16-point loss Saturday at Arkansas, which will likely drop Minnesota slightly down a spot or two. So imagine how much it would’ve hurt Pitino’s NCAA tournament resume to lose to Drake on Monday.

The Bulldogs looked a lot better than a 5-5 team, especially with their ability to shoot from three-point range (12 threes Monday). But the fact is that Drake’s RPI was 217. The Gophers had already dropped out of the top 50 RPI with their previous two losses to Nebraska and Arkansas. They really can't afford to lose any of the next five home games to non-NCAA tournament teams, starting Dec. 21 against Oral Roberts.

“It’s been six, seven months of everybody telling you what you’re going to be without actually being it,” Pitino added about his speech to the team. “I get it. I understand the way it works. It’s hard for younger people to hear those things. It’s not a knock on family, friends, fans. That’s just how it is.”

BAKARY BACK

Pitino said senior center Bakary Konate was available to play Monday after missing Saturday’s loss at Arkansas after suffering a concussion earlier in the week. Konate’s role was filled briefly by senior forward Gaston Diedhiou, who had two points in four minutes.

Diedhiou had six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes against Arkansas, but Drake played mostly with a smaller lineup.

“I think he’s giving us some good stuff,” Pitino said. “He moves a little bit better than Bakary. He’s a little bit more fluid. What I saw I liked. But I don’t think we’ll be able to play like that and win a lot of games in the Big Ten. So I just got to get a little faith in our bench. That’s going to happen through practice.”

LYNCH REACHES 1,000

Senior center Reggie Lynch scored just seven points on 3-for-7 shooting Saturday, but it was enough to surpass 1,000 points for his career. He played his first two seasons at Illinois State. Lynch also had five blocks Monday, which tied him with former Gopher and NBA center Joel Przybilla (1998-00) for fifth on the program’s all-time blocks list with 165. Lynch leads the nation with 4.3 blocks per game and 51 blocks this season.

DOUBLE-DOUBLE STREAK

No player since former Kansas State All-American Michael Beasley 10 years ago had 12 double-doubles to start the season before Murphy did it Monday with 24 points and 18 rebounds. Murphy has already tied the total number of double-doubles he had all last season.

The school record for double-doubles in one season was set by Gopher great Mychal Thompson with 21 in 1975-76. The second most double-doubles in a season came most recently from Trevor Mbakwe with 19 in 2010-11.

Former Edina teammates Lynch, Woodward face off Monday night

DRAKE at GOPHERS

Three things to watch:

LYNCH AND WOODWARD – Reggie Lynch not fouling out in his last 19 games dating back to last year is pretty amazing. Remember that he fouled out eight times in his first 13 Big Ten games last season. The 6-foot-10 senior center had five straight games with 30 minutes or more this year before being limited to 14 minutes with five points, four fouls and one block in Saturday’s 95-69 loss at Arkansas. It was by far his worst game in a long time, but Lynch has shown improvement this season. He’s averaging career highs in points (11.0), rebounds (8.1) and blocks (4.2) per game (second in the NCAA). Imagine if Lynch never transferred back home from Illinois State two years ago. Lynch felt more comfortable about transferring after talking to his former Edina High School teammate Graham Woodward, who left Penn State for Drake in 2014. Woodward, who plays Monday against his old friend, talked to Lynch about how to deal with sitting out an entire season. “He was worried about it,” Woodward said last year. “I told him it was a long year, but you still got to practice and be with the team. Going back to Minnesota was good for him, because I know how close he is with his family.”  Lynch and Woodward are really close as well. They led Edina to 10 consecutive victories going into the school’s first state tournament appearance in 25 years back in 2012-13. The Hornets finished third in the state their senior season. The 6-foot Woodward is having a career year as well for Drake with 11.4 points per game in a starting role his senior season.

BENCH BOOST – Richard Pitino stepped onto the court, stared and screamed at Davonte Fitzgerald with 12:20 left in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas. Pitino was irate at Fitzgerald for missing a point-blank layup that would’ve cut the deficit to single digits. The backup junior forward threw up an awkward and off-balanced shot without setting his feet. It should’ve been an easy basket after Nate Mason found him wide open. It’s been that type of season for the Gophers when the starters leave the game. Pitino seems to be losing trust in his bench as each game passes. Minnesota’s bench was outscored 63-18 in the three losses, which includes going scoreless against Miami and producing just five points against Nebraska. In defense of the reserves, Pitino basically has a six-man rotation with Isaiah Washington the only player with consistent minutes off the bench. Minnesota is second to last among Big Ten teams ranking 245th in the country in bench minutes (29.3). Only Northwestern is worst in the conference ranking 325th (24.3) in bench minutes. Washington leads the bench in scoring with 8.1 points per game, but Fitzgerald’s emergence is critical with the lack of frontcourt depth this season. Fitzgerald, who is scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting from the field in the last four games, only averages 2.6 points this year. Freshman guard Jamir Harris is the second leading bench scorer (3.6 points per game), but he has only played a combined three minutes in the last three games, which included not coming off the bench against Arkansas. Michael Hurt and Bakary Konate are the other two reserves who typically see the floor. But Konate, a 6-11 center, is a game time decision after missing Saturday’s game with a concussion.

COMMUNICATION ON DEFENSE – The Gophers have five returning starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but they don’t look like they have played much together when it comes to team defense. At least that’s been clearly the case in the three losses this year. Opponents have been carving Minnesota up with pick-and-roll motion offenses. If defenders don’t talk on screens, then it’s almost impossible to be able to stop consistently. The starters don’t have an excuse for not being able to have chemistry defensively. Minnesota’s newcomers such as Washington, Harris and Fitzgerald aren’t used to playing together and it could take even more time to become a cohesive unit. Whether they’re comfortable with each other or not, the Gophers have to communicate. It’s a lot easier when you’re not in a loud hostile environment. The next six games at home will give Pitino’s team a great opportunity to talk to each other more on the court, especially on D.

GAME INFO

Time: 7 p.m. CT, Monday. Where: Williams Arena. Line: Minnesota by 20 points. Series: Minnesota leads 12-7. Minnesota won last meeting 66-52 on the road in 1988. TV: BTN. Online/Live video: BTNPlus Radio: 100.3 FM and 1130 AM

PROJECTED STARTERS

MINNESOTA (8-3)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG

G – Nate Mason 6-2 Sr. 15.8

G – Dupree McBrayer 6-5 Jr. 8.5

G – Amir Coffey 6-8 So. 14.2

F – Jordan Murphy 6-7 Jr. 19.9

C – Reggie Lynch 6-10 Sr. 11.0

Key reserves– Isaiah Washington, G, 6-1, Fr., 8.0 ppg; Davonte Fitzgerald, F, 6-8, Jr., 2.6 ppg; Bakary Konate, C, 6-11, Sr., 1.1 ppg; Michael Hurt, F, 6-7, So., 2.2 ppg; Jamir Harris, G, 6-1, Fr., 3.6 ppg

Coach: Richard Pitino 101-78 (6th season)  

Notable: The Gophers’ defensive numbers have been unimpressive to say the least through the first 11 games this season. They rank 13th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (74.0) and three-point shooting defense (38.3). In Minnesota’s three losses, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska and Arkansas averaged 86 points per game and combined to shoot 52.1 percent (99-for-190)!!! How can you win playing that poor defensively? The Gophers still lead the Big Ten in scoring offense (86.5). But they only averaged 76 points per game in their losses. Bottom line, Pitino’s team needs to make defense its identity to beat quality opponents. Plain and simple. 

Drake (5-4)

Pos.-Player Ht. Yr. PPG                                         

G – Graham Woodward 6-0 Sr. 11.4

G – C.J. Rivers 6-2 Sr. 6.1

G – De’Antae McMurray 6-2 Sr. 11.6

G – Reed Timmer 6-1 Sr. 22.1

F – Nick McGlynn 6-8 Jr. 11.0

Key reserves– Casey Schlatter, F, 6-10, Jr., 5.9 ppg; Noah Thomas, G, 6-2, Fr., 4.7 ppg; Ore Arogundade, G, 6-3, Sr., 6.9 ppg; Jalen Gibbs, G, 6-3, Fr., 3.9 ppg

Coach: Niko Medved 67-74 (5th season)  

Notable: Leading scorer Reed Timmer is one of the best shooters in college basketball this season. Timmer, who has scored 25 points or more five times this year, is No. 3 in the nation in three-point shooting percentage (56.1) and leads the Missouri Valley Conference in free throw percentage (91.9). Timmer scored 32 points on 7-for-13 shooting from three in a Nov. 26 win against Chicago State. The New Berlin, Wis. native also scored 28 points on 16-for-18 shooting from the foul line in an 86-81 loss Nov. 18 against Colorado. The Bulldogs have made 10 or more three-pointers four times in games this season and are shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks ninth in the country.

Fuller’s prediction (9-2 picks record)Gophers 92, Drake 75. The Gophers dropped out of the top 25 rankings Monday for the first time all season, but that was probably for the best. They lost three of the last four games, including back-to-back road games at Nebraska and Arkansas by a combined 26 points. Pitino has a starting five that can play with anyone, but the bench needs to be developed before Big Ten play starts again in early January. Monday's game is the perfect opportunity to rest guys like Murphy and Mason to give Washington and Fitzgerald more playing time to build back their confidence. They will need the bench to produce more when the competition gets tougher again next month.