The Gophers basketball team that opened the 2017-18 season as a Big Ten title contender is now fighting to keep from finishing at the bottom of the league.
Getting starters Amir Coffey (shoulder) and Dupree McBrayer (leg) back healthy Monday at Wisconsin would give the Gophers (14-14, 3-12) their best chance to finish strong with three regular season games left and the Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said Thursday on his TV show he hoped Coffey or McBrayer could play next week, but their status is still day-to-day. Coffey has been able to participate in drills during practice. McBrayer hasn’t practiced in over a month, but he still played until recently.
Coffey and McBrayer were sidelined for their second straight game together in Tuesday’s 87-57 loss against Michigan State. They've missed 15 combined games this season.
“We really need Dupree and Amir,” Pitino said. “We just need an extra ball handler and it will give us flexibility to do some different things. When you’re down even one of those two guys, it really makes it difficult. So I guess the hope is one gets healthy over this next week, so they can come back. It’s really, really challenging.”
Coffey (14 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists), who has been out since tweaking his shoulder late in a Jan. 23 home loss against Northwestern, missed his 10th game and fifth in a row with a lingering right shoulder injury Tuesday.
The talented 6-8 sophomore took shots before the Michigan State game and was seen dunking at the Gophers’ practice facility in an Instagram post by senior Nate Mason on Thursday.
There’s a good chance Coffey could return before the end of the season, because he can’t hurt his shoulder any further. But if it continues to bother him after the season, the All-Big Ten preseason guard might need surgery, which would be a six-month recovery.
“It’s a see where is pain tolerance is at and kind of go from there,” Pitino said. “It’s a weird injury. It’s his right shoulder. You can see a lefty shooting jump shots and he might not look hurt. So it’s hard to really tell, but he’s a tough kid. We’ll bring him back when the time is right.”
McBrayer (9.5 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 assists) has been dealing with pain in at least one of his legs since suffering a stress reaction in his left leg over the summer. The 6-5 junior has been out five games this season for a right left infection and lower left leg injury. The New York native played in 12 straight games dating back to the Dec. 23 win against Florida Atlantic, but he’s been sidelined since the second half of a 91-85 loss Feb. 6 to Nebraska.
“What he’s been able to do the last month has been remarkable,” Pitino said. “He plays without practicing, so it’s really been impressive. It’s a pain tolerance thing. He’s not going to be pain-free. It’s a stress reaction. It’s a grade before a stress fracture. It’s about how much pain do you want to play in.”
Freshman guard Isaiah Washington has taken advantage of his expanded role with Coffey and McBrayer absent limited or absent. In the last five games, Washington is averaging 16.6 points, 4.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, shooting 87.5 percent from the foul line, 47 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in 31.8 minutes.
Gophers assistant coach Kimani Young was in St. Louis on Thursday night watching five-star Webster Groves (Mo.) point guard Courtney Ramey, according 247Sports.com’s Ryan James. Illinois coach Brad Underwood and South Carolina coach Frank Martin were both reportedly in attendance as well.
Ramey and five-star IMG Academy (Fla.) guard Anfernee Simons were both former Louisville recruits who reneged on their commitment after Rick Pitino was dismissed in September.