Hello from the high skies, somewhere in between torrential Minneapolis and the hot sun of Puerto Rico.
Jealous yet? Sorry about that.
I’ve got the antidote: skip work for an hour and curl up somewhere a hot cup o’ joe and this mailbag, in which I’ll address early impressions, relevancy and the Gophers’ frontcourt. It will almost be as fun as eating seafood on the beach, I swear.*
Here we go.
@zmotalk: What type of player can [Kevin] Dorsey be? Is Mathieu his ceiling?
I think Dorsey's ceiling is higher than DeAndre Mathieu's because a) he's got more height, b) he's got four years at a high-major Division I school and c) he has more raw talent, at least out of high school, but the same scrappiness/ gamesmanship that made Mathieu such a fan (and media) favorite. I think Dorsey is every bit as quick and he's got that same stunning ability on drives, and the same tendency to gamble too much with angles that aren't necessary and passes that aren't there. But he's got longer to get under control and improve his jumpshot. We saw a very effective version of Dorsey vs. Louisiana Monroe on Sunday night -- especially at the end -- and a very sloppy version of him the game before, when he had seven turnovers. So we aren't really sure yet what we'll see from him this year. But although Dorsey's size will probably limit his longterm options, I believe he could be a very good college player.
@Frantzka: My expectations are actually higher after these first two games. Reason for optimism or just poor opponents?
I go back and forth about what I think about this team. Mostly, I believe this team will take its lumps this season -- plenty of them. I don't think there was anything in the first two games that made me think otherwise. But this year's Gophers have had their early moments. The poise this bunch showed after Louisiana Monroe came charging back from down 15 to take the 1-point lead on Sunday was something I honestly don't think we'd see last year. And there is legitimate individual, if raw, talent on this roster. The problem? A lot of these guys, probably meaning the four freshmen, sophomores Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou and junior Charles Buggs are all probably a year away from the kind of consistency that will make them predictable in a good way. Right now, we really don't know what to expect from the individual talent on the team on a day-to-day basis, especially when it comes to physicality in the frontcourt and rebounding. Minnesota has played two mid-majors who aren't all that big or strong so far, and have lost the rebounding battle each time. It's hard to imagine Minnesota hanging on the boards with a Big Ten team at the moment, and against bigger, better teams, such deficits won't be so easy to overcome.
@BigGameGradeA27: How many years until this team will be relevant again?
I don't think you're looking farther than next year, Big Game. These four freshmen could use time to grow, but they are plenty talented, and the two redshirt transfers -- Reggie Lynch and Davonte Fitzgerald -- could be even better. Add Richard Pitino's highest ranked recruiting class, rife with talents like big guard Amir Coffey and stretch-four Eric Curry, and the future holds many reasons to be excited.
@GettingGophery: Is the defense better (lots of shot clock violations would suggest it might be). When will we know for sure?
Good question -- overall, I’m not sure yet. You point out the shot-clock violations and I think certainly Minnesota’s half-court defense looks better at this point of the season than it did a year ago, and I know that’s been an area of focus for Pitino and his staff. The Gophers have also not been pressing very much so far, and assuming that will once again be a big part of their identity, that’s a key X factor (Pitino said they haven’t pressed mostly because the press “isn’t there yet” by the way). I think Minnesota has the potential to be slightly better defensively – which isn’t saying a ton; the Gophers were ranked 13 out of 14 teams in scoring defense a year ago – because of its personnel. Yes, Minnesota lost DeAndre Mathieu and Andre Hollins, two very good defenders, but the Gophers gained freshmen forward Jordan Murphy and guard Kevin Dorsey, who could be two of the better defenders on the team. With Murphy, plus Bakary Konate and Charles Buggs getting more time, the Gophers could definitely be a better shot-blocking team. But again, they still have to prove themselves on the perimeter where they looked good vs. Louisiana Monroe but shaky vs. UMKC and in two exhibitions, Of course, the Gophers haven’t really played anyone to be tested yet. After three high-major opponents this week, though, I think we’ll have a lot better idea of whether Minnesota can improve in that regard.
@yorka1982: Obviously once B1G season comes, MN will have a tough time competing in the paint. Has RP tipped his hand at all to their plan?
Yes, he’s going to do tradesies with Purdue and swap out Gaston Diedhiou and Bakary Konate for A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swannigan for a couple games.
Wait, no, that was just a dream he had.
The actual plan? Try to develop Konate and Diedhiou and Murphy as quickly as he can, scream ‘BOX OUT’ as loudly as his Long Islandy voice will allow and hope for the best. That’s all Minnesota can do after all, the roster being what it is and the Big Ten being what it is. The Gophers could try going small against a couple teams – Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin in certain lineups, maybe – but for the most part they’re going to have to rely on their big men to rebound, defend and occasionally put some points up.
@BennySwans: Will our B1G record be better or worse than last year? Either way it seems so far they'll be more entertaining if less talented.
I wouldn’t be shocked either way. Most (including myself) are predicting it will be worse, but that’s mostly because this team isn’t loaded with anything but unknowns. At the same time, Minnesota probably will benefit from some version of addition by subtraction. Graduating four critical seniors is always tough in terms of experience lost. In this situation, though, it brings a breath of fresh air as well. Minnesota’s 2014-15 season was not pretty. The Gophers lost nine – NINE! – games by two possessions or fewer. That statistic still baffles me. The seniors were big parts of those losses. Did the Gophers have more game-ready talent last year? Absolutely. Do they have more potential on this roster? Maybe. I don’t know that it will manifest this year but starting from scratch, especially after a season like a year ago, can be a good thing. And I agree with your thought that even if this team loses more, it could be more entertaining all the while. This bunch is fresh-faced, eager and athletic and benefit from the fact that it’s a heck of a lot easier to stomach a team full of youth losing than it is a team full of veterans.
@jerkmo: Have we seen enough from Gaston and Bakary to know if Coach will go that way in recruiting again? I see lots of athleticism.
I think all things considered, Pitino is pretty happy with how things have turned out with the two international recruits. Both are still growing, but have proved serviceable already with Konate potentially capable of blossoming into a very strong Big Ten big man. To a certain extent, developing big men that came to the program so raw is a bit of a stop-gap, a necessary move for a program that doesn’t have any recent winning history. But even if the Gophers were to manage a stretch of good years, going that route can be beneficial – a la now-Timberwolf Gorgui Dieng at Louisville. If he found the right fit, I imagine Pitino would surf the international waters again.
@JohnSharkman: If you could go to the moon for 10 mins or spend a year in Europe w/$1000 per week cash, which would you choose?
Well first of all, let me inform our wide readership that I haggled Sharkman into allowing for 1000 EUROS per week and anyone that has traveled to Europe recently (#humblebrag) and gotten clubbed on the transfer rate will know that makes all the difference.
But let's be honest, I'd choose Europe regardless because I'd rather have a littany of experiences than just ten minutes, even if it was the moon, and all the free dough would give me the opportunity to work some sketchy side jobs, cover a few futbol games, amass a pile of cash and open a restaurant -- I'm thinking in Barcelona. Speaking of which, I'm told there are no good restaurants on the moon. Have any of you seen freeze-dried food? We're talking zero-star cuisine.
@emil_frye: You have some photography chops, composition, lighting. Any background? Please don't tell me you took them with a cellphone.
I took them with a cellphone.
*As long as you have never eaten seafood and don’t know what a beach is.