Five preseason exhibition games are obviously nothing when it comes to predicting what type of team the Gophers will be in Year 7 under Richard Pitino. How they played, though, might give us a little glimpse of what we see early this season.

Pitino dismissed the significance of Minnesota’s undefeated three-game foreign tour to Italy this summer. The competition was like playing the “bellhop,” he said. 

Still, three games in Italy gave the Gophers a chance to get their first look at seven newcomers, including transfers Marcus Carr and Payton Willis. They’ve been so far the standouts of the newcomers and have given a preview of what could be a sneaky good backcourt in the Big Ten.

Fast forward to the fall, the Gophers tested themselves against a potential NCAA tournament team from the Big 12 on Oct. 19. They won 77-68 in overtime in a secret scrimmage at Iowa State. Willis, Carr and returning starters Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur combined for 49 points in a game that Pitino clearly was trying to win [four starters played between 29 and 35 minutes]. That’s not such a bad thing.

The only opportunity for the Gophers to play an exhibition game in front of their fans came in Monday’s 73-48 win vs. Southwest Minnesota State. Nine of the 10 players to see the floor played at least 12 minutes. Willis, Carr, Oturu and Kalscheur again led the way with 49 points combined [nobody played more than 29 minutes].

That was the final warmup before Tuesday’s season opener vs. Cleveland State. So, what did we learn from the exhibition games? Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean the stats from these five games will translate to the regular season, but some of this just might carry over. Good and bad. Let’s take a look.

Carr, Willis, Kalscheur and Oturu were the ‘Big Four’

The Gophers’ top four scorers last season were Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Daniel Oturu and Gabe Kalscheur who combined for 51.8 points per game. Gone are Coffey and Murphy, who also led the team in assists and rebounds, respectively. Who will fill those roles this year? Carr and Willis both averaged a team-high 12 points during the five exhibition games. Willis was much more efficient shooting 52 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line. Meanwhile, Carr shot just 37 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. Carr didn’t let rough shooting stretches keep him from being aggressive. He also got his teammates involved with a team-best 4.6 assists. Kalscheur missed one of the games in Italy with an ankle injury, but he still averaged 11.5 points in four games. Oturu not surprisingly was the Gophers’ most productive big man. He was close to averaging a double-double with 11.4 points and 9.6 rebounds [16 rebounds vs. SW Minnesota State], to go along with 1.4 blocks in five games.    

Shooting more but still not shooting too well

It’s too soon for Pitino to call this his best shooting team at Minnesota. They have to earn that title. The Gophers shot 46 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range in five preseason games. That wouldn’t be much of an improvement from last season [43.5 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three]. Probably the most concerning stat was going 55.6 percent from the foul line [70-for-126], including 11-for-24 in the SW Minnesota State win. They ranked 12th in Big Ten games in foul shooting percentage [67.7] last season but No. 1 in the league in free throws attempted [22 per game]. Oturu replaces Murphy as the U’s go-to post presence. He’ll get to the charity stripe more than anyone on the team this season. So, he’ll have to shoot better than 51.6 percent in these preseason contests. If these exhibitions are any indication, Minnesota will rely much more on threes. The Gophers averaged 10 made threes and 30 attempted per game in Italy, vs. Iowa State and SW Minnesota State. Just so you know, Pitino’s team ranked 344th nationally last season with only 5.3 threes per game. Kalscheur led the team shooting 41 percent from deep last season. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the leader in these exhibition games. Willis drilled 11 threes in five games, including at least two made threes in four games. Freshman Bryan Greenlee were the most accurate from long distance at 54.5 percent [6-for-11] in five games. The minimum was at least five attempted threes in five games.

Guards will be asked to rebound more

When was the last time the Gophers’ second-best rebounder was their point guard? Carr grabbing nearly five rebounds per game in the exhibitions was a good sign. What was not a good sign was not really much consistent frontcourt help for Oturu on the glass. Starting power forward and Drexel transfer Alihan Demir had 10 rebounds in his first game in Italy, but only averaged four boards in the next four games, including just two rebounds in 17 minutes vs. SW Minnesota State [Mustangs tied their Big Ten opponent in total rebounds 42-42]. Part of that was Demir being in foul trouble. Backup forwards Michael Hurt and Jarvis Omersa are capable helping to rebound off the bench. But Minnesota’s guards crashing the boards will help take pressure off a frontcourt minus injured big man Eric Curry. Carr, Willis and freshman Tre’ Williams are bigger guards who need to rebound this year. And they showed they could by averaging four-plus per game in exhibitions.

Team chemistry shouldn’t be a problem

The trip to Italy was invaluable in more ways than just basketball. Team bonding took place sight seeing through Rome, the Vatican and other historic attractions. Check out the twitter videos and Instagram posts. These guys were having a blast. They carried that chemistry over to the court as well. The Gophers shared the ball and averaged 18.5 assists through five games, including 19 assists and just eight turnovers in the exhibition win Monday. The 20 turnovers committed in the scrimmage win vs. Iowa State was concerning, but it was less lacking chemistry and more about decision making. Carr and Willis spent the entire year last season on the scout team together sitting out as transfers. That clearly has them more familiar playing with each other and knowing their teammates. This freshmen class is not just talented but also very close.

GOPHERS EXHIBITION LEADERS (five games)

 

Scoring leaders

Marcus Carr

12.0 ppg

     

Payton Willis

12.0 ppg

     

Gabe Kalscheur

11.5 ppg*

     

Daniel Oturu

11.4 ppg

     

Tre' Williams

10.8 ppg

     

Alihan Demir

7.6 ppg

     

Isaiah Ihnen

7.5 ppg*

     

Michael Hurt

5.6 ppg

     

Bryan Greenlee

5.0 ppg

     

Jarvis Omersa

4.4 ppg

     

Sam Freeman

2.2 ppg

     
     

Rebounding leaders

   
 

Daniel Oturu

9.6 rpg

     

Alihan Demir

5.2 rpg

     

Marcus Carr

4.8 rpg

     

Michael Hurt

4.4 rpg

     

Payton Willis

4.2 rpg

     

Tre’ Williams

4.2 rpg

     

Jarvis Omersa

3.8 rpg

     

Isaiah Ihnen

3.5 rpg

     

Sam Freeman

3.2 rpg

     

Gabe Kalscheur

2.8 rpg

     

Bryan Greenlee

1.8 rpg

     
         

Assists leaders

       

Marcus Carr

4.6 apg

     

Payton Willis

4.4 apg

     

Bryan Greenlee

2.6 apg

     

Isaiah Ihnen

1.4 apg

     

Alihan Demir

1.0 apg

     

Gabe Kalscheur

1.0 apg

     

Michael Hurt

1.0 apg

     
         

Steals leaders

       

Payton Willis

1.8 spg

     

Marcus Carr

1.4 spg

     

Jarvis Omersa

1.2 spg

     
         

FG % leader

       

Michael Hurt

61 percent

     

Jarvis Omersa

57 percent

     

Payton Willis

52.3 percent

   

Daniel Oturu

48.7 percent

   

Bryan Greenlee

47.3 percent

   

Alihan Demir

47.2 percent

   

Isaiah Ihnen

46.2 percent

   
         

3-pt % leader

       

Bryan Greenlee

54.5 percent

   

Daniel Oturu

50 percent

     

Payton Willis

36.7 percent

   

Isaiah Ihnen

33 percent

     

Gabe Kalscheur

33 percent

     

Tre' Williams

30 percent

     

Marcus Carr

25 percent

     

Alihan Demir

12.5 percent

   
         

3-pt field goals

       

Payton Willis

11

     

Tre' Williams

7

     

Bryan Greenlee

6

     

Gabe Kalscheur

5

     

Isaiah Ihnen

5

     

Marcus Carr

5

     

Daniel Oturu

3

     

Michael Hurt

3

     
         

*Kalscheur and Ihnen played four of the five games due to injuries. 

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