Minnesota plays Ohio State in its home opener on Tuesday at 8 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and 1500-a.m.
Minnesota international big man Gaston Diedhiou is moving along in his development and could play soon, coach Richard Pitino said on Monday.
Although the freshman remains very raw, Pitino said the team's shortcomings at the backup power forward spot could force the Gophers' hand earlier.
"Possessions are so important and he's going to make mistakes," Pitino said. "Now is probably not the most opportune time to play him. But we've got to start looking to do it because we're struggling with that backup four spot right now, that's evident."
Currently, Charles Buggs is charged with the role. Buggs has averaged 4.3 points in 11.5 minutes a game and has scored seven points or more four times. But the redshirt sophomore, who also helps back up the small forward position, has been a liability defensively. In the last two games especially, Buggs has failed to make the correct rotation or be in the right place and was scored on by his man far too often, as evidenced by the sharp words Pitino had for him on the sidelines throughout.
"You have a mental lapse and all of the sudden they hit a three and they make you pay for it," Pitino said. "It's not like we're panicking and we're not going to play Buggs anymore, but yeah, that certainly turns up a little bit of a sense of urgency to try to figure out that part of it -- when Joey King is in foul trouble, what are we going to do."
On Sunday, after returning from Maryland, Minnesota started using Diedhiou heavily at the four-spot in practice.
"He looked good," Pitino said. "He did look good.
"He can rebound -- he's tough, he's physical, there are just so many other factors that go into it, it's difficult."
Right now, Diedhiou only knows about "three or four" plays, Pitino said, so when the big man -- who joined the team in late December after a battle with admissions -- is in, the team is limited in what they can do. Developing Diedhiou has been a challenge considering the timing -- when the team is focused on traveling and more extensive game-planning.
The coach also noted that Diedhiou is still "very far" behind fellow international Bakary Konate, who has been with the team since August. Pitino used Konate some at the power forward spot in the non-conference schedule but doesn't feel comfortable playing the true center there now that the Big Ten slate has begun.
When will Diedhiou play? If he has a couple of good practices in a row -- today included -- and either Minnesota has a hefty lead or Buggs messes up a few possessions, don't be surprised if we see No. 41 -- that's Diedhiou's number by the way -- coming off the bench.
"He's got the talent," Pitino said. "That's what you want first and foremost. I think he's got that. I don't think he's going to impact the game tomorrow. I'd be very surprised if he does. But you've got to put him in a position to succeed and certainly he's got a long ways to go."