Q Can they replace Eric Curry’s presence in the frontcourt?
A Curry, a 6-9 junior, suffered his third season-ending injury when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during practice in October. His absence means losing an inside scoring and rebounding presence, but he was also a versatile defender. Seniors Alihan Demir (a transfer from Drexel) and Michael Hurt will rotate at power forward. But 6-10 sophomore center Daniel Oturu will need to play major minutes and be a nightly double-double threat.
Q What will be their identity this season?
A Richard Pitino’s past two NCAA tournament teams had an identity. They were tough. They were physical. They rebounded. They got to the foul line. Pitino admitted he doesn’t know what this team’s identity is yet. “If we’re constantly talking about Eric Curry being injured and being young, that probably means we’re not a good team,” he said. “We’ve said the word ‘tough’ a lot, but we’ve got to look tough.”
Q How much will Pitino’s offense change without Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy?
A The Gophers ran a lot of ball screen plays last season through Coffey, who was difficult to defend as an attacking 6-8 lefthanded scorer. They also went to a high-low offense to utilize Murphy and Oturu both being post-up threats. Pitino talked about “big changes” to the offense this season with a potentially better outside shooting team. He watched how former Michigan coach John Beilein stretched the floor with his big men. So Demir, Oturu, Hurt and Jarvis Omersa have shot more threes in practice.
Q How much better are they in three-point shooting?
A The Gophers ranked 344th nationally in threes per game (5.3) and 347th in percentage of points from threes (22.5) last season. Even when taking shots from long distance, they converted only 31.7% (300th in the nation) — even worse outside of Gabe Kalscheur (27.5%). Kalscheur is back after a team-best 77 threes on 41% shooting. But five of the six players with at least 20 threes attempted last season are gone, including Coffey and Dupree McBrayer, who combined to hit 82 threes.
Q Who will make the biggest impact of the newcomers?
A The seven newcomers for the Gophers are the most for the program since 2004-05. Transfers Marcus Carr, Payton Willis and Demir will be starters. Willis, the team’s unofficial MVP for the foreign tour in Italy over the summer, had a team-best 14 points in last week’s exhibition victory over Southwest Minnesota State. Carr was voted co-captain as a sophomore point guard. Freshmen Isaiah Ihnen and Tre’ Williams were both four-star recruits, but Ihnen is sidelined to open the season because of a wrist injury. Williams led the team in scoring in Italy.